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albums - march 2011


Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel (Gizeh Records)

Conquering Animal Sound’s debut album follows last year’s ‘Bear’ single which emerged to glowing reviews. The single appears to be a superb reflection as to its parent album and further praise seems imminent.

‘Kammerspiel’ is simply an incredible release. Layered and lovingly built, no one sound or second seems to have been overlooked. Anneke Kampman’s heart warming vocals are tenderly looped, whilst accompanied by all sorts of magical sounds, bubbling and boiling, in James Scott’s cauldron. Stunningly innovative throughout, this album drifts and meanders gorgeously; possibly sound tracking the most awe inspiring magic carpet ride never to be experienced. Experimental in so many ways, this album however has certainly not been short changed in the currency of melody in any way. Final track ‘Ira’ is an ideal closer, demonstrating perfectly the most exquisite and innocent of melodies whilst exposing Kampman’s vocals for all their enchantment.

Words alone are not enough to do this album justice, it simply must be heard. 9/10

Mark Whiffin


Mirrors – Lights and Offerings (Skint)

Lights and Offerings builds momentum with a poppy beat reminiscent of 80s bands such as When in Rome and Dépêche Mode, one cannot escape the immediate similarities of THE EIGHTIES, is this a good thing? I’m undecided. Originally from Brighton, Mirrors bring a brash, colourful likability, much like their home city to what is essentially pop music. Heavy synth sounds and epic drum beats are prominent throughout the album creating grand sounds loaded with frivolity and hyperbole, the front man’s voice is comparable to the front man of The Drums, hearty, full of drama and wallow.

Fear of Drowning, was probably one of my favourite tracks on the album, perhaps slightly more experimental, with a longer format, Mirrors take a risk in a reasonably long introduction, however when the vocals they slot in easily. The track brings an interesting array of background sounds, almost evocative of the ocean. Instead of a blatant fake wave soundtrack they have created the pattern and rhythm of waves in the music, and considering the title, it really compliments the vibe of the song.

Hide and Seek is toned down for Mirrors, with a slightly ‘quieter’ song, instrumentally breaking down into a lovely ensemble of different sounds. Somewhere Strange, again is an easy listen.

On 2nd listen layers and textures originally missed on first listen give the album more substance and soul. Something on Your Mind taps into the quieter, almost melancholic mood of the album, close to Morriseyesque warbles. Secret is interesting... with a conventional beginning, the songs filters out into a kind of masculine chant, although it’s ‘different’ for Mirrors, I’ve heard it all before.

What is missing is the variety in the vocals, the songs are all sang the same way, apart from Searching in the wilderness which samples what sounds like an old fashioned dialogue, however this is oddly inserted into the song, I don’t quite see its relevance. Due to the repetitive sounds, listening starts becoming difficult, and the prospect of the whole album in one sitting is head-ache worthy.

Lyrically, we’ve seen it all before, however I think they got the balance right with the music and the words. For me this is a frivolous album, it’s light and heavy at the same time, if you want upbeat tunes with a melancholic attitude, then you will enjoy Mirrors, they have some great moments, but ultimately I think they’re a bit too ‘eighties’ for my liking.

Molly Richards


Bearsuit – The Phantom Forest (Fortuna Pop!)

One always could list quite a few bands that were overtaken by the fate that their sound was outdated by the time that they offered really good work (recently The Rakes and The Rifles, just to mention my favourites). Especially during the recent fast-moving, trend-searching times in music business you must be on top of the movement and constantly provide good music to establish yourself and to get the audience you deserve.
What does this have to do with Bearsuit? They’re doing dancepunk. Like Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, Radio 4, Black Kids, Foals. Like 2007. And they have done it for quite a long time, now releasing their fourth album. So, the question the hipster has to ask, why giving them another try, when it’s 2011 and not 2007 anymore. Because “The Phantom Forest” is a good record. It is undeniable that Bearsuit have all these influences, why should they not have them? It’s good see that Bearsuit give a counter point to the fast moving music scene. The truth is, they create unique songs that pick up these influences and let them drop again in the next minute. The opener “Princess, you’re a test” is a punk-rock smasher that also plays with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club riffs. The brilliant “Train Wreck” begins with gentle voices and gospel choirs, but immediately breaks into Radio 4 alike shouting before returning to a more gentle structure that leads into a Foalsesque pop chorus.
Although their sound is dancepunk, it is not all about dancing, party and having fun. As songwriter/guitarist Ian Ross points out, it is a concept album about getting lost in a phantom forest with the need to establish a new society isolated from the rest of the world, being confronted with a new kind of existence, fear and self-doubt. After undergoing significant line-up changes, this theme reflects the band’s need to discover and establish a new way of existing and writing, explains Ross. This new sensitivity is perfectly reflected in “Tentacles” that starts as dancepunk standard, but comes up with a melodramatic shift in the verse. The most colourful song is “Kwaa-Kwaa” with its instrumentation and gentle tones stolen from Architecture In Helsinki; not to forget the last song, “Dawn of the golden Oriole”, giving a dreamy ending to the visit at the Phantom Forest. Good record!

Wolfgang Günther


Leika – Space On Tuesday (self release)

As “the missing link between the Buzzcocks and Talking Heads” praises the press release of this London indie rock five piece. They are not, of course. The guitars strum and shriek, the bass bubbles along with post-punk lines, the vocals are punk/post-punk typically melodious or hectic. Nothing we have not heard before. This is usual indie rock composition influenced by the whole late 70s post-punk scene. The only interesting feature in the soundscape is a saxophone that occurs occasionally as leading force on some songs, putting the sound a tiny little closer to more ironically elaborate 80s pop influences (Housemartins), as heard on the quite nice rock standard “Deeper Waters” and the strong “Stay”. The fact that they are strongest on the pop tracks is alsoproven on the good last song “Holding Out”. All in all their sound is lame however, songs we’ve heard so many times before, ranging from 70s post-punk (“Sitting Pretty”), 60s beat rock (“Love Love Love”) and inconsistent hard rock strumming (“Go!”).

Wolfgang Günther


My Ceramic Rabbit – Sex A Word (Matchbox Recordings)

Not only the bandname draws associations with bands like My Chemical Romance or 30 Seconds To Mars. Also the sounds reminds of alternative emo pop-punk bands on the first listen. But if you listen to it deeper, this comparison vanishes into sticky dark air: embedded in typical alternative guitar sound, it is the synthesizer that constantly breaks through in order to create spooky 80s goth; on “White Emotion” and “Run Rabbit Run” dramatic guitar tunes join in and support the atmospheric fog with New Wave sounds reminding of none other than The Cure. “Cool Sleek Chic” also could have been found on The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds”. And most of all, it is the yearning vocals that might be confused with an emo band but that is so far from that; singer and guitarist Daniel Evans surely not only is a fan of Robert Smith, but also of Morrissey. His desperate voice offers a clear Smithesque influence and pushes through every song of the eight track record. On “Modesty And Me”, you never can be sure whether it is Evans or The Drum’s Jonathan Pierce who is languishing and shrieking in a Morrissey sound-a-like competition. The drum parts also must be mentioned. It is not a stupidly hard banging that could be found on other bands’ attempts to create alternative hardness, but a clear and effective distinguishable beat and well placed post-punk hi-hat staccatos.

Only an 80s copy band? Of course they are. But where other recent post-punk/New Wave bands cite JD and New Order as their influences, My Ceramic Rabbit’s approach totally neglects these icons. Instead it is much more multilayer. Morrissey’s vocals, Robert Smith’s guitar sound and The Cure’s goth synth atmosphere create dark pop tunes that also could have been written by Siouxie and The Banshees, and are produced in a rigidity that reminds of first wave veterans like Pere Ubu or The Damned (which is no surprise when you notice that “Sex A Word” is produced by ex-The Damned guitarist Roman Jugg).

Despite the laudably diverse sound influences that set them apart from other recent post-punk bands, I must pass criticism on them for the lack of remarkable song-writing. Some songs are quite good, the sound brilliant, but you never have the impression of a big song. And with the lack of big songs, in the length of time the ongoing dramatic voice is nerving like an un-oiled window shutter. So much for criticism, songs: well, some variety and great tunes would have been nice; sound: nice ideas.

And in the end let me say for the people who have the knee-jerk accusation that all of the modern music is just stolen from the “good old days”, of course it is. But My Ceramic Rabbit at least offers a diversified and broad approach in copying old heroes unlike most of the post-punk wave bands. But of course, their songs are far from coming close to them.

Wolfgang Günther


The Complete Short Stories – Perfectly Still

It is rather irrelevant for this review, but is there a proper definition, when a band is a band, and when a collective? Anyway, The Complete Short Stories are a band, a rather big band including seven musicians. And of course, they all bring their own influences. The characteristic that is common to all of their songs on “Perfectly Still” is singer Kerry Adamson’s wonderfully lost in reverie voice. On the opener “A Million Ways” she leads through a shady melody duct, and on “Burn” – truly a fantastic song and highlight on this very good debut - it is her voice along with the floating instrumental intro that creates a bitter sweet atmosphere. However, these two songs reveal one weakness of the band (or collective?): too often there is too much instrumentation and influences – which is not surprising given seven different musicians. This is the reason why sometimes the songs cannot decide which direction it should lead them. Adamson’s remarkable voice and the atmospheric songs the band tries to create could have it all, folk-pop, simple rock-pop in its most blunt arrangements and - in their best songs - especially dream-pop that reminds of early Beach House. Sadly they shy away from taking up a well defined genre. Songs like “Burn”, “One Blank Channel” represent the strength of constructing dreadful songs around Adamson’s voice, oscillating between the antagonism of anxiety, pressure and twilight on the one, and dissolution into brightness on the other side, which puts the song close to the chansons of Brisa Roche. “Value the one you love” basically is Radiohead’s Karma Police, but that does not belittle the Short Stories’ accomplishment of presenting really strong songs, like the jolly, rapidly repetitive “Fish Food” which marks along with “Burn” the best song on the record.

“Company is my friend” states the band on “Time”, one of the lesser breakdowns on the album. With further albums like “Perfectly Still” they will make a lot of friends.

Wolfgang Günther


Waldner – Found And Lost (Blue Fleur)

With his debut “Found And Lost” the Canadian and Londoner-by-choice David Waldner joins the ranks of alternative pop-songwriters. Musically his influences meet The Decemberists and Ron Sexsmith. The opener “Going Up Against Goliath” sets the route for the ten-track album. Jolly songwriter-folk with a vocals that could be sung by the brother of The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy builds up to be a nice pop song. At the same time, the first song already reveals the weaknesses of this record. The lyrics. Or as Waldner puts it himself in “Too Much Of You” “Too much of my heart tries too hard/when I’ve got something to say”. Sadly he wraps the things he has to say into too obvious pictures and well known, outworn words. Also the name giving track “Found And Lost” appears to be too cheesy, almost Fleetwood Mac a-like, however, presents the for every nerd heartwarming words “When opportunity came knocking I had the headphones on/when opportunity came knocking I thought I was part of the song”. Despite this nice picture, the lyrics as well as the tone remain in self-referential dismay. The nice idea of “Rude Awakening” starts off as gentle lullaby and soon turns out to be a disgustingly nerving feel good song.

Apart from three total black-outs (“Undone”, “In Stone”, “Wilderness”) the rest of the album leaves us with the brilliant lifting off “This Wonderful Pain”, arranged with an introverted trumpets intro (Norman Palm’s amazing Boys don’t cry cover!), later reserved violins and Waldner’s soft voice that for the first time moves away from his role model Meloy to sound real. Along with “The Wait”, you must take your hat off for these two outstanding songs of an album full of mediocrity and negligible lyrics.

Wolfgang Günther


Amplifier – Octopus (Ampcorp)

Manchester three-piece come to the end of three years of slogging with a mammoth 16-track 2-CD behemoth. Coming in a prog-tastic gatehold sleeve, the dark mysteriousness it exudes is ever so slightly tempered by the fact the silhouetted octopus head on the cover bears more than a passing resemblance to Roger the alien from American Dad.
While most 3-piece rock bands tend to err on the side of the simple, loud and direct mode of expression to make up for the lack of numbers, Amplifier heave any such pre-conceptions out the window by presenting instead a panoramic vision manifesting itself in a massive expanse of sound, multiple vocal layers, sound collages and samples. It is proggy, but in a modern kind of way and for anyone familiar with the genre, they generally sound like a darker The Flower Kings. Their chief weakness however (and The Flower Kings plus a few others of their ilk fall into this category too) is that they are unable to write interesting extensions to core song ideas. Instead the central song concept is needlessly elongated at either end with long build-ups, outros and solos. This makes the music ploddy and bloated, and in Amplifier’s case this is a pretty disastrous situation, as the album is heavy on mid-paced songs with the end result becoming a bit of a drudge if truth be told. It is rhythmically uninteresting, which means trouble, as over half the album consists of tracks that are at least 7 minutes in length.

Opener “The Runner”, for instance, may be an attempt to conjure up an alternative soundtrack to 70’s sci-fi cult film “Logan’s Run” but sounds more like the bastard child of “Revolution Number 9” crossed with “The Ancient Giants Under The Sun” - easily Yes’s worst track off the infamous “Tales from Topographic Oceans”. It’s not all bad though; “Oscar Night” with its dreams of “America for Americans/Trapped in Amber” is one of the more thoughtful offerings and would be more effective without the ambient “Embyro” being tagged on the end. “Interstellar” is a great song, with Sel Balamir’s cosmic drawling over a circular Zeppelin riff being the album’s undoubted high point and the “Well Ha Fucking Ha” refrain on “Golden Ratio” succeeded in making me laugh out loud every time I heard it. Whether that was intentional though, I’ve yet to work out. Overall though, not an easy listen. 5.5/10



Bear Claw – Refuse This Gift (Sick Room Records)

Third album from Chicago noise/math rock three-piece recorded by some guy called Steve Albini and a more mature development from previous efforts. They employ an innovative approach to proceedings by using two bassists and a drummer and you’d be forgiven for thinking the songs would suffer from a clogged up bottom end as a result. Not so however, as Albini has managed to give all three instruments a huge amount of space to breathe.

The quality of riffage here is second to none, particularly in “Tug of War”. The only let down is the genre-correct shouty shouty vocals. While they perhaps acknowledge this themselves with humour on opening track “Backbreaker” (the choreographed screams of “Ouch!”), they are all over the record and actually manage to detract from the outstanding quality of the music. “A Carhorn is not a Doorbell” and the otherwise brilliant sounding “Nomad” both suffer because of this, and it is only when they abandon this habit and strike out for a more original vocal approach on the QOTSA-like “Loaded Down with Static” that they become an altogether more interesting prospect. A slightly frustrated 6.5/10 for lack of vocal originality.



The Tall Ships – On Tariffs & Discovery (Minority Records)

Second album from the math-rock three piece. Coming from the US and signed to a Czech record label, long distance relationships seem to be a theme of the band with the three members themselves coming from different corners of the 52 states.

They open proceedings with the lush but unassuming Call Confessions. The song is familiar, too familiar and it suddenly transpires they have nicked the verse melody from Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”. Bit cheeky really, but then you could argue that it’s no worse than Noel Gallagher doing the same to Wham for Oasis’ “Fade Away” and at least The Ships had the courtesy to change the key and speed it up slightly.

Steve Kuhn’s intelligently conceived guitar parts signpost the way through “Oh Pioneers” while “Destroy a Village” sounds like a slowed down, stoned MGMT before breaking its way out into a jaunty, crunching stride. Glacial math rock spirit manifests itself in “All New Lows” and “Sharks Teeth Under Glass” is the evil cousin of the Gabriel-era Genesis standard “Get ‘em out by Friday”. They end with “Newborn Window” which is unfortunately over before really getting a chance to establish itself.

An entertaining and expertly constructed album and what the hell, I’ll let them off with the pilfering from Wilco. 8/10



Rev78 – Boy In The Blitz

Rev78’s debut album comes strutting into the arena with a classic rock swagger. Fuelled by Teddy Quick’s sweeping and soaring vocals this release certainly shows great potential in terms of mainstream appeal.

Opening track ‘Killing Me’, like many of the songs here, reminds immediately of the often maligned Brit Pop era, in particular Marion and at times Gene. Guitar riffs chug in a heavily disciplined fashion, never quite distracting from the aforementioned vocal performance. Constructed with frequent reference to the ‘Perfect Pop’ book of song writing, verses build into climatic, anthemic choruses. Recent single ‘Every Bone’ closes the album with a huge nod to the ‘Final Straw’ era Snow Patrol.

This is unarguably a well polished album which could appeal to many. It displays real potential but possibly lacks that killer punch to grab the public’s initial attention. 7/10

Mark Whiffin


Don Scannell - Three Silver Pieces

Returning to music after many years working as an accountant, Three Silver Pieces is Don Scanell’s debut release.

Described in the press release as a “…lovely set of folky, song based, electronica tinged, leftfield balladry…” this album unfortunately fails to deliver on most of those claims. Throughout its duration this is a pleasant release but is destined to spend its life resigned to background music at dull dinner parties, before the inevitable spin of ‘White Ladder’. It’s one track pace surprisingly fails to create any type of atmosphere and each song blends into the next with very little, if any, distinction. There are fleeting glimpses of promise but unfortunately this release is like rice, a good compliment to an interesting dish, but extremely bland by itself. 4/10

Mark Whiffin


Radius System - 'Architects Of Yesterday'

Their 4th album since 2005, Radius System are only too happy to rubbish those long standing Anglo Saxon preconceptions about French rock music, such as that it often isn't very good and that any actually listenable stuff probably owes much to it's english speaking influences. Listen closely and, yes, you will hear one or two guitar riffs that probably originated in Seattle - and I am suddenly hearing quite a number of those this month - but listen to 'Architects Of Yesterday' in its entirety and you might just find yourself filing the album in the 'probable best of 2011' drawer.

If 2008's 'Escape/Restart' was a lengthy exercise in exploring the deeper reaches of the intergalactic reaches of Prog Nouveau, and one of the better albums of its kind I've heard since, I dunno, Modey Lemon's debut LP in 2004, then 'Architects Of Yesterday' takes the best and most coherent elements of that previous album and adds a vast production gloss to these already epic soundtracks and anthemic wall of noise symphonies. Carefully scored and with each instrument taken to its own limit, rather than those of the musicians, there isn't a moment of slack on any of the ten tracks that constitute the album, and if music critics hand out medals for ingenuity and inspiration then Axel Dallou and Gregory Hoepffner (the two named members of Radius System) are in line for one each, no question. Find a copy of this album and, whatever your own proclivities in musical appreciation, stick it on your stereo. You will not regret it.



Hotels - 'On The Casino Floor' (Hidden Shoal)

Hotels mainman Blake Madden is on record as describing this album as (deep breath) ' a spy epic set in a casino in outer space': something akin to the Kylie 'Dr Who' Xmas special with a cooler soundtrack is what I suppose he means, and Hotels can give themselves a not excessively hearty pat on the back and their choice from the cocktail lounge for presenting us, and me, with an album I've actually been looking for: a collection of songs that, while they gleefully reference any number of well known 80s/90s bands and styles, is held together with more than an element of ability and enthusiasm and manages to sound both original and uncontrived.

Partly this is down to Blake Maddens' own trademark guitar work. Ry Cooder with a Morrissey quiff and a set of effects pedals, the echoing, Bigsby twisted riffs that were such a notable part of previous Hotels album 'Where Hearts Go Broke' are placed less obviously centre stage but are all the more effective for that. And referential 80s glam pop styling aside, Hotels own songwriting is more than a match for their instrumentation, even when the band choose to indulge their Mancunian faculties with the brakes off, as Hotels do to some quite spectacular effect on second from last track 'Trouble At The Consulate' - although don't write them off as mere rehashers of the Factory back catalogue, these sounds are only one part of the post punk jigsaw that Hotels present here, to their listeners, as finally complete. And Kylie doesn't die at the end either; what's not to like?



Eat Lights : Become Lights - Autopia (2011)

On this, their debut full length, Eat Lights, Become Lights embrace the steely synthetic landscapes of the German kosmische bands of the ‘70s and mix them with the aesthetic of ‘90s shoegaze and of course, their own flare for songcraft and melody, the end result being an energy filled sound that is as contemporary as it is retrospective.

A fully instrumental record is a daunting task for me, one who’s musical ear is more alert to vocal melody usually finds it hard to stomach solely instrumental music, however, i’m on my third run through now and the tracks are reminding me of the long drives to Leicester of my childhood. There’s something about those ‘70s synth sounds that are so interconnected with the concept of driving and cars, and I believe it’d be the same for someone who hasn’t heard Kraftwerk too, it’s although they have become synonymous with the activity over the years. As soon as the record got into swing it’s all that filled my head.

The great thing about this record is although it uses sounds most definitely heard before, the overall result is a sound that feels fresh, new, optimistic and futuristic. The blend of vintage electronic sounds and spacey guitar, punctuated by the odd burst of hammering force and primal beats, as on ‘Konst’, keeps the listener on their toes and slightly resembles an electronic take on Spacemen 3 at their most psychedelic, as does following track ‘Musik for motorways’.

The spirit of Autobahn is strong in ELBL, the ability to create musical landscapes that somehow manage to conjure up images of pine forests, open roads, a fresh green world and the notion of hope and promise is perhaps their most defining feature and makes for a superb album, the perfect soundtrack to an open road.

Antonio Tzikas


Tetragrammaton – Point Of Convergence (Utech Records)

The latest release from “…a Japanese trio who know how to levitate planets…” appears to be slightly more restrained, and droned focused, than previous releases. Crammed full of fuzzy, but in no way warming, drones and all manner of industrial percussion this is another record requiring focus to fully appreciated the fine craftsmanship on display. Crystal bowls and hurdy-gurdy build slowly throughout, occasionally curtly interrupted by bursts of psychedelic guitar and possessed saxophone. Sparse in places and richly textured in others, this is another very strong release by Tetragrammaton and one that will hopefully see their growing reputation as purveyors of free electro-acoustic sound continue to expand yet further. 8/10

Mark Whiffin


Grimes – Halfaxa (Lo Recordings)

Grimes is the work of Canadian Claire Boucher and Halfaxa was originally released last year on Canadian label Artbus before now being re-released, this time on Lo Recordings.

With Halfaxa, Grimes has certainly released what can only be described as an extremely unique album. Appearing to draw inspiration, and rhythms, from a huge, diverse range of styles, this album sounds fresh and innovative, seemingly keen to find a niche all of its own. Heavy hints of R & B sit comfortably alongside chilled trance like rhythms that are already rubbing shoulders with almost industrial beats.

‘Weregild’ is certainly the stand-out track and could perfectly soundtrack a relaxed outdoor beach bar setting as the sun slowly sinks. At times it reminds of Utah Saints sampling of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’, all beautiful vocals and sweeping backing. New to this re-release, ‘Heartbeats’ saunters along gracefully, the dreamy vocals proving a perfect soothing medication.

In no way can this record ever be accused of being unambitious, especially considering its sixteen track length. Claire Boucher should be heavily praised for such a unique and inspiring release. 8/10

Mark Whiffin


Sam Kills Two - 'Pretty Ugly' (Rocket Girl)

Fred Bjorkvall is, beyond question, one of music's Nearly Men. He's nearly made an alright sort of album, one that contains several songs which are nearly memorable pop tunes that you might find yourself inadvertently huming along to, songs that nearly display compositional invention and lyrical flair, songs whose arrangements nearly add significant depth and emotive power to what are some nearly already adroit guitar setpieces and ballads. Nearly.

Actually, what is good about the 13 songs on 'Pretty Ugly' is badly undermined by the, I need to say it, shoddy design and frankly unattractive sleeve artwork, the not very enticing album title and the really quite rubbish band name which a bunch of 14 year old metalheads would struggle to get away with, let alone real grown up musicians. The sound of around £25,000 burning in the middle of an empty field, and a very poor advert for a label whose roster includes Robin Guthrie, Ulrich Schnauss and the Television Personalities.



Various: The Best Of Whimsical (Whimsical)

One you may not have heard of, Edinburgh's Whimsical label aren't an organisation whose name springs to mind whenever I've found myself compiling lists of Scots based independents, and as a former contributor (over two years) to the still lamented and also Edinburgh based Is This Music? magazine, I felt mildly irritated when confronted with this 21 track summation of the labels output over the preceding decade. Because I, and you, really should know a little more about both the label and their artistes.

Now, trends in music and awareness of them are the very bread and butter of the music scribes daily existence, and as this compilation stretches back to the late 90s, it's inescapable to note that more than half the tracks here are of the Doherty school of Mockney sneers and rattly old music hall four chord raspings, and very cleverly put together some of them are too. You hadn't any idea Edinburgh was such a hotbed of metropolitan cynicism and downright six string subversion, but none of the bands on this compilation are making what you might suppose are the 'right noises' for Scots music today eg: ropey old folk bobbins, heavily accented drunken electronics, Andy Stewart club remixes etc, and Whimsical are due belated congratulations for sticking their necks out and refusing to kowtow to the imposed cultural norms that so often bedevil musicians north of Berwick nowadays. A better album than the View's new release? Quite possibly.



Vessels – Helioscope (Cuckundoo)

I was reading recently about a new network which has sprung up around and about the trendy bar scene in London where groups of like minded individuals would meet once a week, put together an impossibly expensively specced sound system and would then listen start to finish with no interruptions to a classic album previously voted for by the group. No-one is even allowed to go to the toilet. This was supposedly seen as a reaction and antidote to the ubiquity of shuffle played music, the lost art form of putting together an album with a narrative and coherent message. Bunch of arseholes if you ask me – I mean, how are you supposed to enjoy a piece of music if you have pissed yourself. But I do understand what they are aiming at.

Now I’m not for a second suggesting that ‘Helioscope’ is destined to be a classic album which will have future generations micturating themselves while listening in darkened space pods (though it might well be). But there are definitely sections of this album which need to be heard in strict context of their adjacent tracks. And if it were down to me I would make everyone I know listen (without interruption except for comfort breaks) to the two opening tracks here – ‘Monoform’ and ‘The Trap’. These songs form the most impressive start to an album I’ve heard in ages – ‘Monoform’ slowly rising and building before ‘The Trap’ properly snares you into its double drummed and scrabbled guitar sounding mayhem. It’s just so perfect.

And that is very much the way with Vessels. Even their happy accidents seem to be very deliberately arranged and composed for maximum effect. Very little is left to chance. The seemingly duelling vocals of ‘Recur’ seem to Battle away against each other but have in actual fact been arranged to perfectly harmonise and build like a round. The introduction of the guest vocals of Stuart Warwick in the beautiful ‘Meatman, Piano, Tuner, Prostitute’ can disturb the slickly oiled and silkily operated sonic weapon that is Vessels.

Sure in the fullness of time people might look back and pigeon hole this album as prog-rock and it would be hard to find a valid argument against them. But it’s definitely not lazy, prosaic stuff. There are a couple of looser than average moments which drift a little, but when your average is set so high in the first place this is no bad thing. If debut album ‘White Fields and Open Devices’ was dipping toe in the water, ‘Helioscope’ is diving head first into pristine mountain pool. 9/10



Sleepingdog – With Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields (Gizeh Records)

‘With Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields’ is Sleepingdog’s first album in three years and follows their critically lauded second release ‘Polar Life’. Consisting of Chantal Acda, also of True Bypass, and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie, famed for his work as part of Stars of the Lid, Sleepingdog are this time accompanied by Hildur Guðnadóttir on cello and Chester Desmond on violin.

Opening track ‘Untitled Ballad of You and Me’ demonstrates perfectly the prominence of Chantal Acda’s vocals on this release, pushed right to the forefront of the mix with quite compelling consequences. Despite its initial gentle feel this track consequently appears drenched in tension, creating goose bump enticing moments. ‘It Leaves Us Silent’ reminds of Sigur Ros with its intrinsic melody and orchestration painting a haunting ambience throughout. The warm drone like feel and instrumental nature of ‘Kitten Plays The Harmony Rocket’ allows the track to operate almost as an interlude before the quite stunning ‘He Loved to See the World Through His Camera’ again caresses the listener with the most delicate and heartfelt vocals. The instrumentation all the way through the whole album is remarkably subtle and complementary whilst never dominating.

There is such a warm and atmospheric feel to this album, enveloping the listener in the first few seconds and never releasing them until the final few chords have faded from earshot. This is a refreshing and ultimately incredible release and one that will surely see more glowing praise showered in the forthcoming months. 9/10

Mark Whiffin


Syd Matters – Brotherocean (Because Music)

I love The Bees. But then who doesn’t? You do, or you should, unless you’re of the emo listening, make up donning, jeans round your knee caps proudly flashing your arsehole generation, in which case log off now because this really isn’t for you.

So those of us left like The Bees, right? Syd Matters certainly do, at least they must because this is less ‘Brotherocean’ and more ‘Look At Wot We Wrote Like The Bees’.

It is, as you would expect, a poor man’s The Bees that is committed to CD here but then is a poor man’s The Bees all that bad? It’s not, but it’s also a poor imitation of the original. If you love The Bees you’ll find this a sadly lacking substitute and if you don’t like The Bees then, well, what are you doing still reading this? I told you clear off in the first parapgraph...5/10

Jim Johnston


Dive Dive – Potential (Xtra Mile Recordings)

Hands up who wants to join a band where we all sing with American accents and sound like EMO, O.C wannabees? Sound cool? Then sign up for DiveDive.

Described as ‘punchy post-hardcore’. Man, I yearn for the days of pre-hardcore when bands had those now outdated idea’s of identity, personality and, in the more extreme cases, even some decent tunes to share. But in a world where the youth seem to think expressing their individuality seems to mean dressing like everyone else and making holes in every available flap of skin should it be a surprise that the music no longer talks of where a band comes from but instead repeats the same empty message as the band immediately preceding it, to the point where you can’t even tell the difference any more?

A surprise? No. A disappointment? Most definitely. 3/10

Jim Johnston


Payaye – La Chaleur (Africantape)

The accompanying press release describes this LP akin to “sitting on a high-speed train with needles for cushions, perfectly uncomfortable”. Well, for a start, that seems a pretty stupid idea. It’s certainly no way to run a long distance mass transportation system and it’s not, as it turns out, a worthy ideal to aim for when preparing a CD.

It should be noted immediately that this is 12 tracks of instrumentals. And even without criticising the pretentiousness and up one’s own arse-ness of making a 12 track LP of instrumentals the point still needs to be made that this is pretty weak, disjointed and simply poor effort. The tunes they peddle simply aren’t catchy enough to make up for the lack of lyrics, nor is it conducted on such a sweeping magnitude to pass it off as a genuine musical effort.

What it is, instead, if a half arsed pop project half done. If you can’t write the words don’t be in a band.

Oh, they’re French. That explains it then... 0/10

Jim Johnston