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albums - january 2011


The Loves - 'Love You' (Fortuna Pop)

This, says the press release, is The Loves final LP. Is it really? I'm far from certain regarding this statement, mostly as The Loves are enjoying themselves hugely and their infectious enthusiasm shall quite probably carry over into a follow up to this 10 track mini-opus, plus it ought to win over even the most jaded cynic, let alone this reviewer, who is in the mood for some 60s styled pop nonsense, performed with all the flair and elan the deftly skilled combo of troubadors bring to their material and that even includes actual Velvet Undergrounder Doug Yule, as the voice of Jesus. Good one, right?

The Loves formed in Cardiff in 2000 and have received lots of critical acclaim and radio play since. Ten years though, that is a long time in the music world, so perhaps the 7-piece do think it's time to take a breather from their frantic beatpop lifestyles and go off to work in call centers and stuf for a year or two, leaving us to savour the bluesy grind of 'WTF?', the girlgroup harmonies of 'December Boy', the proto-punk psychedelia of 'I Lost My Doll To Rock N Roll' and Doug Yule's messianic ansaphone cameo on 'It's The End Of The World'.

If I've one actual criticism it's that the production could use a little more depth, with which to bring an added sense of drama to The Love's often tongue in cheek retro pastiche. Also, it isn't a very long album, but 'A Hard Day's Night' was only 29 minutes or something. And if you close one eye and squint with the other, the sleeve does begin to resemble that of 'Forever Changes', sort of.



The Lucky Strikes -'Gabriel, Forgive My 22 Sins' (Stovepony)

Concept albums about boxing aren't very common. Concept albums about religion, now there's been a few of those over the years. So, merging these two thematic approaches to their blues/folk sound, adding some grimy 50s graphics to conjure up the right mood of film noir-ish angst and wearing black and white facepaint into the bargain, The Lucky Strikes bring a fictionalised tale of corruption in the fight game - if there's any historical evidence for the actual existence of Frankie Valintinez, I've yet to find it - to life, of a sort.

The Lucky Strikes drape their shrine to Valintinez in a confusion of biblically inspired quotes (recalling Nick Cave's 'Ass Saw The Angel' saga) and the music veers noticably from one style to another. Matthew Boulter turns in some quite spectacular - verging on Led Zep influenced - guitar work, while some of the quieter folksy bluegrass moments, which while they're well performed and at least tuneful, seem to pale in comparison with the maniacal Jimmy Page style lead work that the entire album somehow seems a showcase for. There's a lot of quite real musical ability in evidence but the entire album seems to lack focus somehow and at least one track is a virtual cover of Albert Hammond's 'Free Electric Band'. So, 'Gabriel ....' is a bit patchy overall, but with The Lucky Strikes stoking up the voodoo rhythm one minute and shredding banjos the next, it also has a definitely less than entirely predictable style that will probably keep you listening, regardless of whether you're very keen on either boxing or religion.



Spokes - 'Everyone I Ever Met' (Counter)

I really, really want to like Spokes album. At it's best, the music on 'Everyone I Ever Met' is inspirational, haunting, verging on mesmeric. Spokes craft their songs in the tradition that Arcade Fire created: who can really say where Win Butler gets it from? And like one or two other folk based albums I've heard recently, 'Neon Bible' casts it's long late summer shadow across the (in this instance) eleven tracks that constitute 'Everyone ..' and what I'm in contention with is that, after several listens, the good bits sound really quite wondrous, while the less inspired moments, or those where Spokes just run out of their energy - these seem ever more noticable.

Opener '3 4 5' starts things brightly, Spokes sounding unforced, all cylinders firing in proper sequence, the backing vocals and string section gliding across the guitars and drums with symmetrical composure. 'We Can Make It Out' and the title track maintain these themes but, subtly, there's also the beginning of what the undermines much of what Spokes are setting out to achieve. At some point in the recording, it was perhaps suggested that Spokes make it sound 'a bit more like Coldplay' and 'Peace Racket' really does resemble 'Speed Of Sound', albeit taken at a more leisurely pace. The instrumentation retains its agility, but the tunes start to gather dust and right where Spokes music really needs to take flight, their ambition remains firmly grounded in elegaic chorusing and repetitve keyboards.

The very promising intro to 'Happy Needs Colour' is just that; under a minute of what sounds as if it might've turned into one of the albums more satisfying tracks, while album closer 'When I Was A Daisy, When I Was A Tree' is a song apparently designed to attract exactly the kind of cynicism that Spokes declare themselves opposed to in their PR blurb.
Not exactly a game of two halves, but Spokes are playing things a little too safe if they want to make music that equals the scope and power of their influences.



Various: The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1987 - 1983 (Bristol Archive Records)

Throughout most of the 1970s, reggae chart hits were more often than not credited to solo performers and vocalists - Ken Boothe and John Holt are two well known names from the mid 70s, but at the end of the decade the entire scene recieved a hefty dose of new found credibility as Londons punk elite picked up on what were then the innovative new sounds emanating from the specialist record stores and sound systems. The Clash covered a Lee Perry song, Johnny Rotten made a well publicised trip to Jamaica, and no John Peel show was complete without at least one reverb and bass heavy instrumental track. The punky reggae party was a quite real phenomenon.

In response to this, Carribean musicians living in the UK formed more bands. Steel Pulse and Black Slate had chart success, the Cimarrons endured a mixed reception supporting Sham 69 on tour, Merger and Misty In Roots took their music across boundaries on the Rock Against Racism ticket. So, there's definitely scope for a full retrospective of British reggae of the period, and this Bristol based compilation goes some way towards filling the gaps and there is, if you like reggae, a lot to recommend here, as songs like Black Roots 'Bristol Rock' and Restriction's 'Four Point Plan' retain most if not all of their energies of three decades previous, while other tracks benefit from the production skills of Dennis Bovell and Mad Professor, giving things a properly dubwise spin. I need to ask some questions of the album compilers though: there has to be plenty of other quality reggae from the rest of the 80s, and what was happening before 1978? One way or another, this album fills yet another gap in our knowledge of what is the most comprehensively documented moment in music history, and the One Drop kicks in just as mightily as it did back in the day.



Jil Is Lucky Jil is Lucky (Roy Music)

I almost I like this.

Almost because when I've listened to it, I've been struck by how clever some the songs are. I've been struck by how shiny it all is. I haven't really thought 搕his song is great! I'd rather realise I was impressed somewhere around track 7 than wonder when we're going to get there.
Have I considered that the problem is me and I'm a a soulless, dead inside hipster with no ability to feel or enjoy music without criticising it for the sake of it? Yes, because of this album. Thanks.

Artful, Cure-esque pop? I should be yelling about this record. Clever song-writing? I should be demanding you buy this...and I can barely make it all the way through the record. It all comes across as an attempt to sound like every American college-rock band ever. This narrow schizophrenia makes it very harder to listen to. Any promise is dulled out of every song, apart from Don't Work. Which is tender and pretty and sweet and works in the way all the other songs don't, but try to. The rest of it is pretty dull though. You can be clever and dull.

Christopher Carney


Various: 321 A Rocket Girl Compilation (Rocket Girl)

Over the previous fourteen years Rocket Girl has firmly established itself as one of the UK抯 premier record labels. This two disc compilation collects a selection of the labels finest releases alongside new and exclusive tracks from its more recent roster of artists.

Rocket Girl can never be accused of lacking musical variety in their releases and this collection covers a wide range of musical territory. The 慓reatest Hits selection opens with the funky, upbeat rhythms of Lilys followed by the majestic post-rock of God Is An Astronaut. Robin Guthrie provides a beautiful piece of music entitled 慙ove Never Dies A Natural Death, reminiscent of the quieter parts of Explosions In The Sky. The 慽n your face rock of A Place To Bury Strangers and the stunning offering from Am provide further highlights along a journey with a huge number of musical changes of direction.

Strangely however it is the exclusive disc that offers the most rewarding listening experience and hints at great things to come for the label and the bands concerned. Employing a more psychedelic feel, with heavy helpings of shoegaze throughout there are a number of stand-out tracks. Ulrich Schnauss collaborates on a couple of the tracks producing his usual high quality output. Lemon抯 Chair and Fuxa both supply haunting, mesmerising tracks coated with layers of beautiful feedback in the case of the former.

There can be absolutely no doubting the quality of the music on offer here and as a collection of tracks it is an excellent release. 8/10

Mark Whiffin


Alright The Captain - Snib (Field)

The three members of Alright the Captain hail from various locations around the UK but still managed to meet and form their band in another completely different location altogether; and it this makes a good analogy for their music. Debut album 慡nib is a chaotic collage of instrumentation and noise that feels like numerous genres compacted into one single sound. Punky Sonic Youth style feedback wails, chunky palm-muted math riffs, electronic bleeps and growls and some post rock soundscaping all find their way into these ten songs. Like a musical Jackson Pollack, it抯 as if the band have thrown everything they could against the wall and hoped for the best. Turns out, just like Pollack, it抯 bloody marvelous.

慛eo Tokyo weaves intricate guitar riffs around whirring electronic samples whilst 慚ega Mega Drive hops and skips about before blasting out a sonic onslaught that makes Sleigh Bells guitar tone sound positively reasonable. 慓uilt ventures into Pulled Apart By Horses style spikey riffs and screaming vocal snippets whilst #33 is covered in a gooey electronic bass tone that抯 so good it抯 almost sexual.

At times the trio are out and out math metal, sounding like Battles or Bats whilst in other moments, they抮e plain heavy and noisy, with feedback and sickeningly huge bass distortions before quickly plunging the listening into a cool pool of post rock meandering for twenty odd seconds. This record is a lean beast indeed. There are no unnecessary dwellings on melodies, noises or riffs and there is a ruthless energy and aggression running through the whole album even during the melodic interludes.

Such a record is not for the faint hearted and to the more conservative listener, it抣l most certainly be unpalatable. Perhaps others will complain that one song bleeds too readily into the next, creating a repetitive mix of riff after riff after riff.. However, to the musically adventurous, to those prepared to strap themselves in and go for the ride, this record borders on near genius. With the energy of Holy Fuck, the complexity and of ASIWYFA, and an unabashed love for musical adventure, Alright the Captain have produced a chaotically punchy slice of perfection in this stunning release. 9/10



Natasha England with Logan - 'Deeper Into Reality' (Platform)

You can't help but wonder exactly what's inspired the eleven tracks on this collection of moodily atmospheric trip-hop, of a recognisably mid 90s vintage. Natasha England and her electronic collaborator Logan weave a dark, verging on morbid wave of chill zone spirals and thudding drum programmes that draws influence from Portishead and - er, Portishead, with the odd Bond theme thrown in. Today, Natasha is going to psychologically intimidate everyone within earshot and I wouldn't want to second guess what her plans are for this evening.

'Deeper Into Reality' is a skilfully constructed album, but there's a lack of variation in the melodies which makes the entire album resemble an extended mix of first track 'Darkside'. This either makes for an agreeable late night loungecore experience or a depressingly repetitive exercise in one-finger sequential button pressing and the dated sounding ravey lyrics aren't helping much either. I don't think I want my mind opening anymore, Natasha.



Mike Marlin - 'Nearly Man' (Amp Music)

Mike Marlin has been lurking around the fringes of the music business for several decades, or so it would appear. His press blurb speaks of years spent gigging around pubs and clubs in a string of now forgotten support bands, bands that never quite 'made it' in the traditional sense of the phrase, recording songs that no-one ever played, all the while retaining his unshakeable self belief that his dstiny was up on the big stage, in the transatlantic world of platinum discs and lucrative advertising contracts. The sleeve art only shows an anonymous beard and glasses with which to represent Mike Marlin, an image lacking any features with which to distinguish him from a million other bespectacled punters qeueing to see very big name act shows at the local stadium.

Actually, I think Mike Marlin has a secret or two behind that disingenuous beard and specs : he was actually a member of Kula Shaker, or the Cooper Temple Clause, or perhaps even Tin Machine - there's an unmistakably Bowiesque flavour to much of 'Nearly Man' between Marlin's vocal inflections and the metallic funk stylings of much of the music, not to mention the eloquent sax break that enlivens 5th track 'Play That Game'. Sounds a bit like Blur sometimes too, and the production has the gloss and depth of a much more accomplished act than Marlin chooses to present himself as.

90s nostalgia buffs will enjoy 'Nearly Man' hugely, although the recurring 'I'm the voice of experience, son' lyrical theme will probably alienate anyone aged under 30. Nearly a bit rude actually, Mike.



The Memorials The Memorials (Blood Thirsty Unicorn)

Assembled by former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen from other alumni of California抯 Berklee School of Music, The Memorials release a debut that is unlikely to win over fans of Pridgen抯 former employers and sounds exactly like the sort of record you抎 expect a bunch of ex-music college virtuosos to make.
This is a technically accomplished, overbaked mess of an album that lacks any sort of structure, sense or aesthetic taste for that matter. Opening track 揥e Go To War pretty much sets the tone with Pridgen抯 thrash metal drums bludgeoning you to death, all interspersed with multiple widdly guitar solos and the banshee wails of singer Viveca Hawkins. She changes tack on second song 揘atural Disaster and ends up sounding like, of all people, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Unsettlingly bizarre. 揇ay Dreamer starts well and does give you hope that they are capable of at least some sort of variety, but after one verse it soon becomes clear that they skived off the songwriting classes at college and as a result have no real understanding of the concept of how a tune is put together. Instead, they embark on pointless indulgent noodling, the likes of which would put ELP to shame.
A poor start to their discography, this album should be a lesson in the inherent dangers having too much talent on display; Nick Brewer抯 guitar playing surfs close to Satriani in terms of ability (and histrionics) and Pridgen has apparently been winning prizes and scholarships for his prowess thumping the tubs since he was 9. A pity no-one thought to teach him and his cohorts the discipline to shape and use these abilities properly. 3/10



KONTAKTE We Move Through Negative Spaces (Drifting Falling Records)

London-based instrumental 4-piece taking their name from the piece by electronica pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, release their follow-up to 2008抯 揝oundtracks to Lost Road Movies.

Consisting of electro-beat led instrumental mood-pieces that are texturally guitar-heavy, they tick most of the usual post-rock boxes (although judging by their interviews, they would probably resent such generic pigeon-holing) from Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, to contemporaries like This Will Destroy You. The ambient soundscapes also point to Brian Eno抯 work with Robert Fripp, with squalls of guitar sound coming courtesy of 90抯 shoegazers Slowdive. Most of the tracks hover around the seven minute mark aside from the album抯 focal point, 揟he Ocean between You and Me, a ten minute dreamy snow-blizzard of a song that leaves you with a fuzzy feeling inside. Other highlights are the forelorn sounding 揌ope厰, the piano led 揈arly Evening Bleeds Into Night, and the glacial 揈very Passing Hour.
A fine album for a Sunday afternoon抯 looking out the window at the rain. 7/10