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albums - february 2011


   
 

Tahiti 80 – The Past, The Present & The Possible (Human Sounds)

I have been accused in the past of passing judgement on some bands far too quickly, which although it hurts me to admit is probably true. Well Tahiti 80’s latest offering ‘The Past, The Present & The Possible’ was one of those moments that I realised I need to give bands a chance. As I started listening I immediately decided that it was going to be another standard electronic pop album and was ready to give up. But I didn’t and am so glad that I carried on intently hoping for something more, because what I discovered after my first full listen was that in fact this album is a great mix of genre flipping, electronic rock full of highs, lows and lots in-between.

Album opener ‘Defender’ gets the ball rolling with layers of fuzz bass, dirty guitars and synths building up until it explodes allowing room for luscious vocal harmonies and big drum fills aplenty. They switch from electronic drums to live drumming taking the chorus line to a whole new musical level; a technique that is used effectively throughout the album. The songs are fast paced, eccentric and very memorable with a style that is similar to Super Furry Animals at one moment, ‘Kid A’ era Radiohead the next, and with the occasional hint of Aqualung in there for good measure. But it is when the band really let themselves go that everything gets that little bit more exhilarating: Their extended version of ‘Crack Up’ comes in at eight minutes long and is without a doubt the highlight of the album. Initially sounding like a pretty standard disco rock song, it is allowed to grow into something much more spectacular as synth tracks are layered on top of one another. The resulting sound is heavy and dance driven, like it were plucked straight out of The Chemical Brothers’ album ‘Come With Us’.

This French six piece (as they are now) have gone through a lot in their extensive career, and have made many attempts at releasing something that will not only be able to define them as a band, but also help to make a name for themselves. It may have taken fifteen years to come to fruition but better late than never – ‘The Past, The Present & The Possible’ could indeed be that album. This is a record created by a band that are experienced at what they do and quite obviously love every minute of it, and that comes across perfectly in what is an outstanding sixth album for Tahiti 80. 9/10
www.tahiti80.com

James Borland

 

Stateless - Matilda

Ok. I’m going to attempt a live review. As in, write the review as I listen to the music. Really. I’m not even reading the press release. Is this allowed? Right, brace yourselves, here I go:
Track one – What the fuck? Is my stereo working? All I can here is whale noises. I think my speakers are up the swanny. Oh wait, it’s started. Meh, whiny. Wow, heavy bass reversed and whipping about the place. That was pretty cool. Like Elbow on Ecstasy.

Track two – Ah this sounds very bhangra. Think about the beginning of Timberlake’s ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ and you get the idea. Talking of which, this chorus is a bit JT too, backed by phat, Roland 303 dance squelches like Slugabed or something. Nice.

Track Three – Ambient, echoed booms to start. Vocals sounding like White Town (remember him?!). Anyway, this song’s becoming distinctly r’n’b, but in the good way, not in the Usher way. It’s got soul and atmosphere by the bucket load. Might play that again, it was great.

Track Four – Mmm, Stateless have a habit of making a song sound like it’s going to be hideous as this intro wreaks of chart r’n’b. Hang on, it is a little. Somehow though it also sounds like James Blake. I’m still interested. Vocals wail over a distorted but controlled verse/chorus thingy, then it ends. I was actually really enjoying that. You know, I really like this.
Track Five – Tribal drum intro with a music box plinky-plonky sound. Vocal line is a bit obvious. Nice squelching and a grumbling electronic bass line. Not going anyway though...Hang on, it’s all got seriously heavy. That bass is so low I’m surprised a human can hear it. Nice touch.

Track Six – Bored already of ethereal volume swirls. Wonder when Question Time is on. Come on, if I wanted post-rock I’d have gone to the Bull & Gate. That’s it? Rubbish.

Track Seven – This is better. Simple guitar and great female vocals. It’s a sad waltz peppered with electronic swirls. The melancholic nature is very Anthony and the Johnsons. Introspective and touching morphing into quite the murder-ballard. Good thing I’m drinking.

Track Eight – Sassy. That’s the word that comes to mind. I hate that word. I like this song though. It’s very Tindersticks. Jazzy, soulful and lounge. “Dancing in the kitchen, kicking up a snow storm”. Great lyrics but my interest is waning.

Track Nine – Quivering string instruments welcome head nodding rhythms that preceed a more delicate song than expected. Very U2. The Edge guitar sustains notes alongside Bono-esque vocals... the works. A dry, in-your-face middle eight. It’s a bit all over the place but I’m curious, not bored.

Track Ten – More atmospheric wailing. Little bit bored of the same trick now. Oh, very soul all of a sudden. Like a moaning chain gang of old, wrinkly blues guys, but then back to the wailing. It’s good but they’ve done this “touching and poignant” thing better previously. A hint of James Blake about proceedings still exists.

Track Eleven – Closing number. Give it to me. Ah, the Eastern feel. This could be incidental music for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. More tribal drumming. Been done now. More wailing but sublte vocals. Normally when they do this it goes somewhere. And here we are! A huge funky bassline crashes in. Different vocals now sing over the top, fits well. A real head nodder. Switches back to introspection. Piano notes ring out. I love it.

Ok, that was great. I want to listen again. This is one of those albums that’s full of a surprise, that’s layered, experimental and different. It’s one of those albums your drunk mate will put on and insist you “really listen” to it, but you’ll love it too. Sometimes it misses the mark but overall it’s a triumph of experimentation. Listened to it a second time. Better than the first. That’s a great sign. Full of influences and sound-a-likes yes, but still it wreaks of originality. Not always on the money, but close enough, ‘Matilda’ works hard to rightfully charm your socks off with some outstanding moments. 8.5/10

Moker

 

Malachi - 'Return To The Ugly Side' (Double Six)

They've a thing about the word 'ugly', Malachi do. Their last album was called 'Ugly Side Of Love' so this is to all intents and purposes 'Pt. 2', as if it were a film sequel. There's also something very definitely cinematic about their music. First track 'Monsters' is a curious amalgam of the theme from Jaws and that of some overcostumed country house drama, like 'The Remains Of The Day' with an exploding shark. Malachi like their 60s Psych-Pop too. Next track 'Anne' would fit comfortably into a happening beat pic about a photographer, with such as the Hollies providing the obligatory long haired title song cameo appearance. Things take a sci-fi turn with 'Mid Antartica,' the action theme from Alien vs Predator Vs Limp Bizkit and 'Rainbows' is a crucial omission from the soundtrack of Peter Fonda's 1967 magnum opus 'The Trip'.

Anyhow, around rolls track 5, the Chemical Bros inspired 'In The Hole' and while it's a reasonably accurate cover of 'Let Forever Be' I'm starting to lose sight of what it is Malachi are setting out to achieve. 'Distance' is a dour trip hop stomp as is next track 'Monsters' and while there are several moments of interest throughout the rest of the album, Malachi's own sombre claustrophobia somehow prevents the album from really taking shape. Certainly, 'Return To The Ugly Side' could work as an actual film soundtrack, but I will hesitiate to comment on exactly what sort of film it might really work with.
http://www.dominorecordco.com/artists/malachai

JG

 

Sankt Otten - Morgen Weider Lustig (Hidden Shoal)

This, for those of you with a declared interest in the form, is German electronica by numbers, and whether or not you think that makes for an interesting or even entertaining listen will depend on your own proclivities in that direction. It is an assiduously composed collection of tracks each of which references a different aspect of Teutonic techno of the preceding four decades, contains very obvious nods to every name you can either think of or remember, and the best thing about it is Sankt Ottens' near total lack of reliance on sequencing, which means that yes, you can hear the tune and not merely the circuits generating the sound.

Starting with the swathes of Tangerine Dreamesque chords that characterise first track 'Ein Himmel Voller Golgen', leading into the terse drumbeats of 'Mutter, Jazz und der Heillige Geist', it's apparent that while Sankt Otten aren't what you might describe as risk takers, their real strengths are as composers rather than technicians. 'Fromme Lustig' strikes a suitably angst ridden mitteleuropean note, and while the shadow of Ralph Hutter (and perhaps John Foxx) is an noticable presence, Sankt Otten refuse to slide into repetition and none of the tracks replicate each other to any great extent. They could use a vocal on one or two of their compositions, but this really is the kind of muzak that so many of our own synth enthusiasts spent entire careers attempting to emulate.
http://music.hiddenshoal.com/artists/sankt-otten/

JG

 

Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field (Play It Again Sam)

Let me first say I am not very enthusiastic about soul and R&B. It always sounds a little clammy and indifferent to my ears. Joan As Police Woman, or Joan Wasser as her real name is, does exactly this, Soul, R&B, but in a rock context. Having listened to her third album several times, I must admit that my perception of soul does not apply totally to “The Deep Field”. Truly this is a lesson in demonstrating how flexible and new her approach sounds on the ten tracks, opening a truly deep field of music.

“Nervous” meanders along in a stoically stomping rhythm, to which Joan Wasser’s voice at one time holds against a strong soul tone, and in the next moment grouching as if she was pressed against a glass pane. Not only the voice, also the instruments vary and try to make their way to the surface one by one. The deep field is opened. “The Magic” is the deserved single. The song about worrying about too much thinking, however, wanders along the fine line between too much thought and a divinely light soul; Wasser’s lightness can most clearly be seen on “I Was Everyone”. The complexity of her composing skills shimmer through her smelting of soul, R&B with rock and punk, even prog-rock with the piled up song outros, creating sound walls and carpets. Among some more traditionally smooth tracks, you also can find real sound wonders like “Flash”, which begins like a the Doors psych song, becoming even darker, revealing a coldness in Wasser’s voice you never would have imagined having listened to her more traditional soul pieces.

However, apart from these outstanding songs, you also can find half-baked pieces and unfinished ideas that make her music drab sometimes. But still, Joan As Police Woman has proven that she has an open field as a resource, and is able to pick up from it whatever she desires.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Stick In A Pot – A Number More Than Nothing At All (Sad Sentry Records)

The fact that all kinds of folk used to be the big thing during the last two years really is not a secret. It bore some fairly nice songs, helped to get airy-fairy free minds like Sufjan Stevens or Joanna Newsom accepted, and added new dimensions to this old-fashioned genre. But actually a lot of people oversee the dangers of the modern folk wave. All you need is a guitar and some simple recording devices, and, of course, fairly simple ideas and tunes. Literally everyone can create his account of folk music. Unfortunately, a lot of people do it.

I don’t want to discuss the pro and cons of the recent easy ways of recording and production – a lot of fabulous pieces arise of it, but the disadvantage of the democratized music scene is: equipped with DIY techniques and lack of talent, some artists create no quality, no deep thoughts, just sketches that spring up from their minds, producing tons of mediocre, bland outcomes. For some people should apply the rule, only publish when it’s worth being published.

I am sorry, but Stick In A Pot is not only a daft band name, but their debut album “A Number More Than Nothing At All” also one of those bands. We heard tons of bands with twee, sunny folk pop, lost-in-thought melancholy, but Stick In A Pot delivered the most bland and boring account so far.

And yes. The press release paper actually contended the word ‘melancholic’. For PR agencies applies the same rule, please only publish when it’s worth it.

Wolfgang Günther

 

The Chemistry Set – This Day Will Never Happen Again (Dead Bees records)

Shall I really start this review with writing about middle-aged men regrouping and doing a good job? Bands that gained some success, became forgotten, but still prove that they are up to their best in creativity? Not only does it sound trite, but also opens Pandora’s box. I probably would write about the fantastic new Wire album, and only drop one line about The Chemistry Set.

But this one is about The Chemistry Set. And it is worth talking about them. The late 80s psych-rock veterans were pricking one’s ears up between ’88 and ‘90, when they received an international fan base with some tapes and releases. The big success, however, was denied, as they gambled for a bigger deal in the business, and loused it up. After a downtime they released the never published LP “Sounds Like Painting” from 1989 in 2008.

With “This Day Will Never Happen Again” The Chemistry Set tries again. Their (pre-)Britpop sounds original, but nostalgic in the same place; The Kinks go hand in hand with Dantalian’s Chariot, Wimple Winch, or The Idle Race, where The Chemistry Set builds bridges to the 90s Britpop revival of Oasis etc. It is so originally retro Britpop and psychedelic rock that it seems fallen out of time. Hence it is a good time to gain new success. With the new Britpop-bark Brother on the horizon, The Chemistry Set’s sound re-establishes their good old days, before the new British wave broke. If these days will happen again, the Chemistry Set could maybe receive their credits this time. If the new Britpop wave, however, only will be a gentle breeze, their days pass. Anyways, what remains is a good, fallen out of time record.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Mr Oizo & Gaspard Augé – Rubber (Ed Banger)

Ah, the old genre of the film soundtrack causes many a heated discussion. It’s such a tricky genre to transfer from visual accompaniment to stand alone musical album. Should it be a literal interpretation of the movie, along with original soundtrack a la the great John Barry for Bond or London Philharmonic Orchestra for Star Wars? OR should it be a compilation of killer tracks (think films by Guy Ritchie or Trainspotting?). There’s even the school of thought extolled by the little known American director Quentin Tarentino that every track should be specialist music already written, never written specially for the film.

Well in this case, Messrs (or should that be Monsieurs?) Oizo (of Flat Eric fame) et Gaspard (of Justice) go for the original soundtrack option. A little about the film plot perhaps would help? Yes, well it’s about a rubber tire that develops a mind of its own and goes on a psychokinetic killing spree. Honestly, it is. Directed by Frenchman Quentin Dupieux. Anyone smell a rat? Yes! Monsieur Duipieux is the same person as Mr Oizo – he’s penning his own soundtrack. Good thinking if you ask me – two cracks of the same whip and all that, double the royalties, not to mention not having to explain the bizarre storyline to any third party musicians. And Gaspard? For his part he acts in the film so also has a vested interest.

Despite the musicians and filmy people being the same person, there’s still a disjointed element to the album, almost inevitably due to the soundtrack nature. Nearest to what you may expect from standard Oizo or Justice track is the manic title track ‘Rubber’ which, forgive the pun, veritably boings and bounces along every bit as manically as Flat Eric ever managed. There’s also a coulpe of nice synthy instrumentals like ‘Tricycle Express’ and ‘Everything is Fake’. Equally there are the downright odd – the electro Baroque of ‘Room 16’, the occasional (but almost obligatory) sample from the film itself and the industrial ‘Bellyball Road’.

Occasionally there’s a tune which recalls contemporary influences – there’s something about Crystal Castles in the reedy synth of ‘Sheila’ for instance. But overall you would say this is a disparate bag of musical ramblings by a couple of already surreal composers. Wouldn’t you? I’m not that sure – I’ve taken a really warming to this album and despite the seemingly disconnected themes running through, there is also a warped kind of narrative for which you don’t necessarily need to see the film to understand. The film pretty much bombed at Cannes and the album probably won’t be taking up too many column inches in NME. But that’s just a further reason to give it a listen isn’t it? 8/10
www.edbangerrecords.com

SB

 

Gunslinger – Early Volumes 1

So, this guy is called Gunslinger. On the cover, there is a guy; presumably Gunslinger himself, in a cowboy hat. The sticker on the cover tells me that this CD is 'recommended if you like Muse'. So far, so... okay-ish? I'm not sure what I'm expecting: some kind of dub-step/country hybrid? Trippy Ennio Morricone-style bleeps that you can dance to? Well no, what you actually get is that very specific kind of turn of the century pop-dance that invariably ends up in club scenes in bad action movies. with no real Wild West influence to speak of.

Speaking of influences, the Muse element isn't played well either. Musically, there's barely anything that sounds like them. The only place it shows is in the vocals that are, to their credit, alternately soaring and seductive in that way that Matt Bellamy's are. If you like Muse (and millions do) then I'm sure you might be intrigued. Don't be. This record is just eight overlong, (heavily) remixed versions of Knights of Cydonia.

Someone needs to take this guy aside and point out that hiring a singer who sounds exactly like Matt Bellamy does not make you a cowboy.
Last track Nothing's Good Enough sounds a little bit like Test Icicles covering Daft Punk and is pretty good, but not enough to save an album that owes so much to late nineties Dance Nation style cheese-trance.
I’m sorry to have to put this is such geeky terms, but it fits: this poorly implemented cyber cowboy dance mess leaves Gunslinger looking less like Nathan Fillion in Firefly and more like Will Smith in Wild Wild West. 2/10

Daniel Shields

 

Beards – Brick by Boulder

I really did not know what to say about this record. It's brilliant, but like nothing I've ever heard, it's like trying to describe a brand new colour that no-one else has ever seen.

Beards are a Leeds based band, they're the sort of trio who make the noise of ten bands and that noise is jerky, angular noise-pop. If you think Sleater-Kinney cover Dillinger Escape Plan and you'd be in the area, but not necessarily on the same street as Beards.

Brick by Boulder is a bit full on: it’s eleven tracks of difficult, unrelenting, hook-filled, shouty post-punk. I really couldn’t recommend a better album, on their record label’s website; they’re accused of ‘disco pop’, ‘majestic AOR’ and ‘beefheart-esque stomps’ amongst other musical crimes. Trust me, there’s no disco, just balls to the wall shouty poppiness, no AOR and there’s NO Beefheart influence at all. Captain Beefheart is just noise; Beards are noise with added dancing. And that’s what makes them so great. Lyrically, they don’t really seem interested in silly things like feelings or anything that other bands are concerned with. At times the lyrics are kind of abstract and totally rhythmic and treated more like an extra instrument than a way to convey a “serious” message. Beards just seem to like a good old noisy, stomp around. Which is great, because there are far too many bands who take themselves far too seriously. What we need are more bands like this one: hyper, poppy, angular and slightly sinister in a way you can’t place. Sure, Brick by Boulder can be a tiring listen, mostly due to the relentlessly speedy pace of every track, but it’s a fantastic record if you like loud noises. 8/10

Daniel Shields

 

Josh Bray – Whisky & Wool (New Tide Records)

Another singer-/songwriter in the line of the traditional folkies is Josh Bray. The cover and the booklet of his album “Whisky & Wool” already give a clue about the sound. Bray is captured in decently warm colours, lost-in-thought Indian summer romanticism and misty-eyed distance. This reflects his 60s/70s influenced folk style; the warmth of his guitar pickings supports his sometimes soulful, sometimes desperate, impeaching to yearning voice. The semblance to Nick Drake and co is obvious, and intended. But unlike the big folk heroes, Bray’s songs reveal a convincing new romanticism in their best moments. His songs are technically okay, listening to them with patience and the right mood also very enjoyable, but they lack ingenious hooks that would make the whole thing more exciting. The mediocrity leads to the effect that after the very nice “The River Song”, “Rise” and “Bigger Than The Both Of Us”, the rest of the album just comes off as stuck in the indistinguishable mires of folk songs. But maybe if the warmth of the last sunrays on the cover turn into dark clouds and Bray has to walk through some gloomy puddles, his songs will get the necessary igniting spark.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Caro Snatch – Til You’re No Longer Blinkered (Emms)

I always look forward to hearing something slightly obscure, and with the likes of James Blake and Jamie xx hitting the headlines in recent months it seems obscure might just be the ‘cool’ musical genre to be part of for the foreseeable future. Caro Snatch is definitely going for a place in this genre bracket with her mix of avant-garde, electronic, spoken word and operatic stylings on her latest release ‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’. So how does she fare alongside the likes of Blake and Jamie xx?

The only answer I can come up with for that question upon listening to this, her second full length album, is “not very well”. Caro Snatch has been releasing music for the last seven years and all I can think is that now, when her style would be appreciated most, she has run out of ideas. The songs on ‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’ are long and drawn out: The spoken vocal style is quite uncomfortable to listen to (imagine your grand mother talking to you in what she considers her ‘sexy voice’, it’s not very pleasant). Then there is the attempted singing: I say attempted because it isn’t very melodic, and any harmonies added are painfully out of tune. The only saving grace for this album is that some of the backing tracks are beautifully crafted. The transitions from electronic to classical influences are seamless and add a real depth to what on paper might seem quite empty and bland. However the vocal lines are so overpowering that it becomes near impossible to block them out meaning it is often hard to be able to appreciate the great production on the backing tracks underneath.

‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’ definitely can be categorised under ‘obscure’ music, however that doesn’t mean that it is also musically viable. Without the terrible vocals this record would be worth listening to, but then it wouldn’t be a Caro Snatch album. As it is, I can’t help but feel like some great musical ideas have gone to waste. 3/10
www.carosnatch.com

James Borland

 

Tom Tom Club - Genius of Live

Tom Tom Club are one of those bands that seem to have slipped under the collective radar over the years - a footnote at the bottom of Talking Heads biographies and seen as a bit of a one hit wonder. Which is a shame. ' For the uninitiated, TTC are the funky half of the Heads, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. Showing a commitment to their art that few other rhythm sections seem keen to follow (Gillian and Stephen from New Order aside) they also married each other . 'Genius…' captures the reformed group playing live to their nearest and dearest at their own studio/venue 'The Clubhouse' in 2001.

That one hit I mentioned earlier, 'Genius of Love' kicks off the record and its a fierce start, a choppy, bouncy, stream-of-conciousness rant that sounds as it its being written as it goes along:
'Quick quick, get someone to chuck in a dancehall shoutout. Yeah thats cool. How abouts putting in a little break where the synth sounds like its falling apart? Yeah, thats it.'
Its the sound of a band mucking about and its all the better for it. Its a song about absolutely nothing and it sounds like liquid sunshine. Whats great though is that the rest of their back catalogue doesn't sound weak in comparison. 'Punk Lolita' is a tight little riff with the pop gene running through it. 'She's Dangerous' is Aswad with a sense of humour and the gloriously daft 'Wordy Rappinghood' is a six year old's take on Grandmaster Flash.

'Genius…' also comes with a bonus disc of 11 remixes of 'Genius of Love' from the likes of Money Mark, Senor Coconut and Ozomatli. I'm not sure I'd ever have the attention span to sit through 11 versions of anything in one sitting but its at least a diverse bunch of takes on the tune (DJ Bitman's dubby effort probably being the pick of the bunch).

What stands out most is just how easily the live songs on this album sit alongside the sort of thing you'd hear in an indie club today. Vampire Weekend owe them a career at least, while a fair chunk of this record could pass for Go Team songs. Its the eclecticism which stands out: They can move from New wave to Afro-beat to Dub in the space of three songs, and never once does it sound forced. What really shines though is how much fun they're obviously having. Its one long love letter to their record collection. If the sign of a good live album is it making you wish you'd been there (or at least that you were listening to it somewhere where you could get away with shaking your ass - I'm currently on the train) then it succeeds like nobody's business. Frantz and Weymouth have both just turned 60. Shape up kids, they're making us look bad. 9/10

Andy Glynn

 

Kasey Anderson And The Honkies - 'Heart Of A Dog' (Spark & Shine)

After listening to numerous 'alternative' artists providing their own take on blues rock (Jack White and Jon Spencer spring immediately to mind), it's actually quitet refreshing to hear a band take on the form without getting either all ironic or overdoing the distortion pedals, and Kasey Anderson and his Honkies are 100% 12 bar bump n' grind, hissed vocals, man - eats - dog lyrics, and guitars that don't say sorry when they bump into you in the street. A traditional, rather than an updated, sanitised, or rethrashed blues album, one which you will very quickly decide whether you want to hear a lot of and just what I'm in the mood for, as it happens.

There is also a definite and carefully produced musical variation at work across the eleven tracks on 'Heart Of A Dog'. If opener 'The Wrong Light' is a neanderthal stomp worthy of Led Zeppelin, 'Mercy' is a drivetime anthem, 'Your Side Of Town' is a ballad that recalls the glory days of late 70s Springsteen, and 'Revisionist History Blues' is a combination of inventive production, an authentically down on the farm blues lyric, and some of the hottest bluesharp playing I think I've heard for several years. If I'd wanted to hear a blues album, this is what I'd have wanted it to sound like, and it does. Recommended.
http://www.kaseyanderson.com

JG

 

That Ghost - 'Songs Out Here' (Two Syllable)

Some albums are just unclassifiable, and That Ghost breaks as many rules as he ever learned on this eleven-tracker. Lo-fi will need to do until the singer songwriter gains a category entirely of his own, but you, the listener, will also wonder how the 20 year old San Franciscan not only gets his songs into the air, but how he keeps them there. The one man band approach, and I wouldn't put it past That Ghost to utilise an actual foot-operated percussion system, has rarely sounded either quite as inspired or even just as listenable as it does on 'Songs Out Here', while the vocal contains the kind of mordant glee that a musician of this kind really needs. Yes, there is a joke. No, he isn't sharing it. Not yet anyway.

Balladeering aside, it's when That Ghost take on a rock n roll (in the 1950s, quiffed sense of the phrase) that the album takes on the haunting, elegaic quality That Ghost really want us to hear. 'I've tried to like you/ I have tried' sings - don't know the guy's real name - on 'To Like You', and it sounds equally as bored and as throwaway as the music sounds involved and imaginative. It's only halfway through 'Songs Out Here' that we get to hear That Ghost unplugged ie: minus his tambourines and bass drum, and strapping these back on, 'Calls' is as worthy a summer night anthem as anything The Drums or Fyfe Dangerfield ever recorded. As the album progresses, the tempos increase, and I start to wonder where the rest of the band are, but it's all That Ghost's own work so far, and in fairness, given the extent of realisation of the performers own conception of his work - which is near enough total - the band are probably awaiting the results of the recording sessions of That Ghosts next album. One singer, one song, the cliche used to run; let's just leave That Ghost to get on with things, on his own terms.
www.myspace.com/thatghost

JG

 

Mazes - A Thousand Heys

I first discovered Mazes in the first half of last year after hearing their debut single Bowie Knives, released on Brighton based label Sex Is Disgusting, on their Myspace whilst researching the support acts for a Smith Westerns gig I was attending. I liked what I heard and was eager to hear more from this young Manchester act, which wasn’t really possible until now, with the impending release of their debut effort ‘A Thousand Heys’ on Fat Cat Records.

Mazes produce short bursts of scratchy, lo-fi, melodic, hook laden garage pop. A promising debut by anyones standards, ‘A Thousand Heys’ displays Mazes talents through 13 cuts of garage pop perfection. My initial action when receiving the album was to check out the album version of Bowie Knives (the single version was a very rough demo), which is still for me, the standout track of the record, the infectious verse melody sealing the deal for the track, which clocks in at under two minutes long.


As the album moves on, the pace never lets up for a second. Though a cohesive album, each track is great in its own right and the album never begins to get boring and samey as the hooks keep coming. Mazes sound resembles a more garage/punk orientated take on the classic pop melodies of The Beach Boys, The Kinks and other ‘60s beat groups. However, although there definitely is a hint of ‘60s influence in the sound in terms of arrangement and hooks, the band also draw influence from the ‘90s ‘slacker’ bands and at times sound like later Pavement, such as on ‘Boxing Clever’ or ‘Cenetaph’, the slightly distorted vocal and lo-fi instrumentation adding to the effect. A Thousand Heys is one of the best debut efforts i’ve heard in a while, the light, summery, vibe in stark contrast to the deep fuzz laden, ‘90s alt revival that seems to be taking place at the moment with Yuck’s debut and the upcoming sophomore record from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart embracing the production values of the era.

Even when seeing Mazes play with only guitarist and drummer, I always had a slight inkling that there was something special about this band and that there was a chance of some good music from them looming on the horizon and A Thousand Heys proves my intuition right. Potential summer soundtrack here, i’d keep my eye on this lot if I were you.

A. Tzikas

 

Alain Weber – Hoover Cover (Poor Records)

Alain Weber is a musician and DJ from Switzerland that has been writing and producing music for the past twenty years. However he shows no evidence of this on his latest release ‘Hoover Cover’. Forgive me for being blunt here, but very little if any musical experience is displayed through this painfully dull forty minute album.

The melodic ideas are that of an extreme beginner; someone who has sat down at a piano for the first time and played a couple of notes. Broken chords are used and overused throughout by a plethora of cheap sounding instruments. I can only think that Mr Weber has never listened to an album by an esteemed artist before. In fact he may not have listened to any music before. If he had then he would surely realise that a few chromatic scales, broken chords, drone notes and randomly placed timpani don’t actually create music per se.

It is embarrassing that artists like this (and I use the term ‘artist’ loosely here) can get a record deal and release music when there are so many more incredibly talented musicians/ composers/ producers out there that are getting no recognition for what they do. I don’t really want to give this album a mark out of ten, however as I have in the past, I have to praise Alain Weber for being so brave as to release something that in my opinion is utterly terrible. So for that alone ‘Hoover Cover’ gets a solitary 1/10
www.myspace.com/alanweiber

James Borland

 

Lee Negin – Hungry Ghosts (Passing Phase)

Lee Negin has been described as a composer, lyricist, multi instrumentalist, vocalist, synthesist, sound sculptor, producer and recording engineer. He has also been credited with being a pioneer in the international indie/techno/new wave movement of the 1980’s and appears to be undertaking a prolific comeback, with this album the first of two due to be released this year.

‘Hungry Ghosts’ is a very hard album to classify, with a whole host of different styles on display, regularly competing with one another for attention. Unfortunately this ultimately leads to a very fragmented and bloated release and one where any sense of direction or cohesion appears to be absent. There are parts reminiscent of Damian (of ‘The Time Warp’ fame), heavy almost industrial beats, regular uninspiring ambient passages and some horrific James Brown impersonations. Clearly a poorly skilled jack-of-all-trades and certainly a master of none, Lee Negin goes far beyond the kitchen sink approach to recording and simply slings the whole housing estate in the mix. 3/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi (Domino)

Having been permanently etched on ‘tips’ lists for the previous twelve months, Anna Calvi releases her debut album to much attention. Co-produced by Rob Ellis, famed in particular for his work with PJ Harvey, expectations are understandably high.

‘Rider To The Sea’, the opening track is beautiful, sparse, string focused and slightly gothic in its nature. The dark atmospherics soon give way to showcase the soulful vocals present on ‘No More Words’, a slow, sultry, sexy number. Throughout many of its tracks’ ‘Anna Calvi’ features what can only be described as a 1980’s feel, a comment in no way meant to be critical. The production, while occasionally feeling very restrained, more often than not gives a big radio friendly boost to songs such as ‘Desire’. So much so, ‘Suzanne and I’ and ‘Blackout’ certainly wouldn’t feel, style wise, out of place amongst ‘The Joshua Tree’.

Despite recent comparisons to the aforementioned PJ Harvey, much of this album sadly reminds more of Texas. There are glimpses of promise but ultimately these are fleeting and leave a frustrated taste. 5/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Heraclite – Heraclite (Naxo Prod/Urgence Disk)

Heraclite’s self titled album is an unusual beast. With the focus firmly on tribal rhythm and chants there is a very primitive feel present. Comparisons can be made, and similarities found, with Faith No More’s more experimental moments, particularly opener’ Elpetai’, with its intensive and repetitive vocal chant. Despite the influence of the ancient past there is also something very innovative about this release. Sung entirely in Greek, the grooves twist and turn throughout, and are regularly funky and infectious. Listening carefully there are a number of tracks that wouldn’t feel out of place on a recent Foal’s release. However, despite its inventiveness and strong opening it isn’t long before we stumble into what can only be described as filler territory. This is a release that would have made an excellent EP. 6/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Robin James – Paper Earth (Pocket Size)

‘Paper Earth’ is Yorkshire based Robin James’ second album and was recorded entirely using vintage analogue equipment, without a computer in sight, a refreshing contrast to the recent auto-tune controversies currently dogging the recording industry. Accompanied by King Creosote on a number of tracks, this is a quite beautiful and honest release. Despite initially appearing to be sprinkled with warmth, many of the songs’ lyrical contents are chilling, with references to death and religion. Intimate and haunting throughout its duration, this album will draw obvious comparisons to Nick Drake but further similarities can successfully be found with other artists such as Sparklehorse and very early T-Rex recordings. Far more than a collection of good songs, this is an album capable of creating the most intense of listening experiences. This album is surely evidence of the fact that sometimes the most hushed of voices can actually make the most noise. 7/10

Mark Whiffin