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albums - may 2011


Le Reno Amps - Appetite

Appetite is the new album from Scottish guitar slingers Le Reno Amps, a record that mixes lo-fi production and indie sensibilities with an incredibly diverse mixture of genres and styles that run through its eleven tracks.

Le Reno Amps are a band that can’t be pigeonholed, theres too much on show here to cast them off as any kind of revivalists, pretenders or purists. The songs run through country, folk, metal, power pop, classic rock and ‘90s alt/indie, one after the other, which can become a bit disappointing after loving a certain one track and then finding out its the only one like it for a while, in my case, the excellent album highlight “I’m Alive”.

Appetite certainly shows off Le Reno Amps immense talent for songwriting, the sheer range of styles and obvious understanding of how to write well in so many different genres is quite incredible. When making an album though, I prefer a band that does sound similar on each track, for after all, there’s no real harm being pigeonholed if it leads to a concise and style definitive album, which is something that Le Reno Amps are missing out on by having such range on their record.

There are some incredible tracks on this album though, songs like “Saturation Day’, the aforementioned “I’m Alive”, the Sgt Peppers style “Weight”, and the solemn country closer “Faded Star” that plunges into heavy territory for its last minute or so. Appetite is the kind of diverse homage to music as a whole that is present on some of the early Brian Jonestown Massacre records, and shows a band who do it purely for the love, theres no bullshit here.

Antonio Tzikas


James Vincent McMorrow - Early in the Morning

Hailing from Dublin, James Vincent McMorrow, already a number 1 success in his native Ireland, breaks out to an international audience with this, his debut full length record. From the moment the first few seconds of the first track, “If I Had A Boat” started to pass by, with the soft refrains of “golden golden river run” fading out into a sinister drone, minimal beat and haunting, fragile, broken but beautiful lead vocal, it became instantly obvious I was listening to something special.

This record is the end result of McMorrows period of learning in the fields of songwriting and production, an endeavor inspired somewhat surprisingly by the hip hop production styles of The Neptunes and Timbaland. Taking his newfound skills to a small house by the sea, James worked on this record and has come back with something unreal.

The record is acoustic based and rooted in folk melody and rhythm, but each song doesn’t stay on the ground for long. McMorrows talent for writing songs that flow so easily into a surge at the end is a rare one, take the fantastic “Sparrow & the Wolf” for example, relentlessly driving and overpowering whilst keeping it’s soft aesthetic. The next song, “Breaking Hearts” is an instant classic as it stands, as soon as the chorus hits, it all becomes clear. So simple, yet so brilliant.

It’s not all upbeat and boppy here though, the majority of the album takes a more atmospheric road, haunting, almost chilling at times, the fragile vocal adding much to the ambience. “We Don’t Eat” is a fine example of this, its pounding kick drum and soft string and brass arrangement mirroring perfectly the solemn tone of the song, “We don’t eat until your fathers at the table, we don’t drink until the devils turned to dust” croaks McMorrow in an almost prophetic manner through the chorus.

Perhaps the most perfect example of the raw talent of James Vincent McMorrow is “Follow You Down To The Red Oak Tree”, stripped down to one acoustic guitar and vocals at the beginning and building throughout, its mood and tone suit the vocals perfectly and make for a ghostly spectre of a track, barely existing beyond a few plucked out notes on the guitar and capturing the atmosphere of the album perfectly.

Early In The Morning is a near faultless debut record, perfectly showcasing McMorrows talent and ability and perfectly capturing the feel of each of his songs. The songs really do speak for themselves; packed with emotion, feeling and soul, they conjure up the happiest memories and also those of the darkest times. An incredible listen and a new talent to keep an eye out for.

Antonio Tzikas


Shibuya Crossings - Depend on Your Alter Ego

Released on Typically Magic Records, Depend On Your Alter-Ego is the second album by the London-based trio Shibuya Crossings, a band that mix Feeder and The Vines style guitar thrashing with naive, heartfelt lyrics and boast influence from the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Blur.

Opening tracks ‘At Eight In A Spanish Bar’ and ‘Take It Out On Me,’ are the highlights of an album that thrives on catchy choruses and an ability to capture the angst of a typical British twenty-something. As a piece of indie-pop the album does what it says on the tin, and whilst on slower numbers such as ‘I’ll Meet You At The Station’ and ‘A Wonder Inside’ lead singer Declan Harrington is prone to descending into slightly melodramatic cries for lost loves, overall the album is consistently pleasing melodically and worth a listen if you’re interested in bands with a slightly grungier post-Britpop sound. 6/10

James Dawson


Sucioperro – The Heart String And How To Pull It (Xtra Mile)

For those of you unfamiliar with Sucioperro – they're Scottish rockers. Pally with the Biffy crew, and Soosh frontman JP Reid makes up half of Marmaduke Duke with Simon Neil; so it's no surprise that there is something quite Biffy sounding about them.

The album bursts into motion with “Running From All That Tempts You” - faced paced wonky rock that builds to a chorus drowned in that hazy fuzz omnipresent in the grunge scene. Then everything changes when “Threads” offers up cheesy Sugarcult-esque pop-rock, but cheesy in the way that Country music tends to be cheesy. There are a few tracks that fall into this category which is a bit of a shame because there is certainly potential. The compositional ability is abundant in every track and most of the time I like the vocals; although sometimes they do seem a little weak, there isn't much dynamic variation all in all.

“Out & Over” is a decent rock track with riffs constructed from a mixture of firm chords and edgy twiddly bits – and more of this is what the album lacks. I haven't heard anything by Sucioperro in five years or so but I seem to remember them being a bit more ballsy, so in that respect I'm a little disappointed with this album. It's understandable though that attitudes and sounds change and progress, but often I just wish that wasn't the case. Something which certainly does take the rocky edge off of it, is the female backing vocal that appears to be present in a lot of tracks. I don't know why, but that only adds to the cheese-factor. 6/10

Thom Curtis


Sweet Jane – Sugar For My Soul (Reekus Records)

By the numbers first album from the Irish rockers. If you like obvious chord progressions or uncomplicated garage Americana, then this is probably for you.

Opener “Bleed” is a polished attempt at Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, with guitarist Danda Paxton doing his best to sound like Peter Hayes and ending up sounding pretty thin in comparison. Never missing an opportunity, he repeats the trick later on the equally anodyne “You’re Making This Hard”. Lyrically, it’s pretty hackneyed stuff: “I’ve been waitin’ for you for a long, long time/And when I don’t see you it just plays on my mind” from the unsurprisingly titled “I’ve Been Waitin’” sets a high watermark for the album in terms of its depth, and a song that’s probably designed to feel poignant, instead just feels dull, tired and clichéd. Chief amongst their problems is that neither co-vocalist Lydia des Dolles, nor Danda have memorable enough voices to make even the most boring material sound in any way special. And quite a lot of this album is boring, ploddy music that has you reaching for the matchsticks to prop up the eyelids. “Black Eyes” does briefly gives a bit of interest with its pretty chord progression, but I keep half expecting a Stevie Nicks cameo appearance that never comes.

It’s always difficult to come up with something original with this particular genre, given that it always has one foot firmly stuck in the past, but there are artists out there that have been able to make something original, and memorable. On the other hand though we have Sweet Jane, who appear have squandered an opportunity here by creating a complacent, safe record. 3/10

Rory Mac


Sarabeth Tucek - 'Get Well Soon' (Sonic Cathedral)

Almost a decade ago, when the scene around the Brian Jonestown Massacre and BRMC was at its creative peak, it did seem a lot like a boys club, with neither band particularly noted for their use of female vocalists or (at least credited) musicians. This is of course something of a misomner. Sarabeth Tucek was an integral part of that particular clique and, several years in the making, 'Get Well Soon' is, by her own admission, a retrospective overview of that time and a very different type of musical approach to that of her earlier work. Now relocated away from the Californian locales that informed her earlier work, 'Get Well Soon' is a definitive break with both her own past and that of her erstwhile collaborators.

It is, beyond question, a very good record and one that gains in resonance with repeated listening. An album whose music is fuelled by the emotional crisis prompted by the death of the performers father might appear a little too overtly confessional for some listeners, at least on paper, but Sarabeth Tucek and her songs contain a sober objectivity in the face of the tragedy that informs at least some of the tracks here, and her backing musicians play with tightly controlled definition, instead of the more effusively colourful styles that her best known colleagues are known for. Sarabeth's voice is a combination of poise and subtle power, and her melodies are enhanced with skilfull arrangements and unobtrusive production. A committed performance from a gifted singer/songwriter. 'Get Well Soon' is also a fitting epilogue to those very memorable performances of her previous musical associations whose music continues to inform her own, and is a remarkable work in its own right.



The Amsterdams - 'Electromagnetica' (Post Pop)

Does it matter that The Amsterdams are in fact from Romania? Listen to 'Electromagnetica' and find yourself recalling the heady atmospheres and sounds of that weekend break to the bulb fields you made two or three or more years ago. And other snapshot moments of your past and present too, 'Electromagnetica' is literate, modern europop and I use this phrase advisedly, as its ten tracks are without exception actual pop songs, swathes of guitar backed with boppy rhythms and waves of synths. Many bands look back to the golden age of 80s electropop with often variable results, but The Amsterdams are in that select grouping of bands whose music doesn't really sound a lot like anyone else, and 'Electromagnetica' is the kind of album that's very much more than the sum of its parts.

Already actual stars in their homeland and also much of eastern europe, The Amsterdams music has a solidity at its core that bolsters their tunes and boosts their essentially lighthearted, good time in the beach bar songs with an added depth that makes listening to 'Electromagnetica' a memorably rewarding experience. Whether its the powered up riffing of 'Kids In The Garden', the intricate rhythmic structures of 'On The Run' or the spacey euphoria of 'Island Of Love', anyone hearing 'Electromagnetica' will find at least one song they'll want to cut out and keep, as it were. The best new band to emerge from Romania in living memory, an evening spent in the company of The Amsterdams is time very far from wasted.



Kat Vipers - 'A New Career In A New Town'

A five track mini album from a singer songwriter who's significantly less welll known than her music deserves, Kat Vipers takes a step or two back from the chaotic balladeering that made her 'Longplay' album such an outstanding performance and takes a turn towards electropop with a pronounced eastern influence. Quirky techno tuneage with a Balearic twist are the results of her new musical direction, and a sound which her own idiosyncratic vocal style turns fully to her advantage. 2012 is possibly the year when north African Rai makes its presence more deeply felt in our own musical scenarios, and Kat is significantly ahead of the game with material such as this.

Kat looks across the mediterranean and beyond for influence across the five songs on this release. 'Fake Ophelia' is a nervy ringtone of a song, sharply constructed electro overlaid with a contrastingly sombre bass riff. 'Blue Ice Lolly' is a delicately eccentric melange of sampling and a rebetika inflected melody, Kat taking a notable influence from Greek sources, to which the sleeves cyrillic lettering provides a significant pointer, and 'Creation' has an unmistakably Bollywood styling at its core. 'Antichrist' is, as its title suggests, verging upon Biblical in its prophetic imagery, made all the more resonant by Kat's own verging on throwaway call centre vocal delivery: 'chaos reigns / it's coming with the clouds' declaims the vocal, in the deceptively impersonal manner of a mail order firm thanking you for holding as your call is important to them. Last track 'Put Out' is of another stamp entirely though, the one song here which most resembles the stridently epic sound of Kat's 'Longplay' album, an Edwardian music box with Kate Bush trapped inside it. A hugely talented instrumentalist inhabiting a niche that's entirely her own, Kat Vipers can and will win over the opinions of even the most jaded musical palates.



Josh Flagg - 'Devastate Me'

A relative unknown outside the NY club circuits he regularly gigs around, but for how much longer? Albums of this quality inevitably catch the attentions of mainstream movers and shakers, up to and including the lucrative advertising and game soundtrack contractors, and Josh Flagg has produced an album that's as power driven and intermittently glossy as any of the FM rock antecedents he knowingly takes influence from. Fortunately for every one else, his music also contains very real skill and posesses a thunderous, Springsteenian heart at its core, right where an album of this kind might otherwise slide into mere moneygrabbing AOR-by-numbers. Josh Flagg's greatest asset is his informed and soulful vision, one which lifts these songs into the dramatic realms of great Americana, cadillacs and tumbleweeds and all.

So, full-on barroom machismo, eloquent tales of neon lit boulevards and finely tuned harmonics in the powerchordage. Josh Flagg rocks out like every gig is Shea Stadium, and every guitar riff the intro to 'Born To Run' - it's an eventful and demanding ride alongside Flagg and his cohorts, one that crosses and recrosses the lines between Metal, Emo and Country, making one or two less expected stops along the ways. This is all achieved with never less than total commitment from both Flagg and his band The Obligations, some of whose playing is of a quite mesmerising standard. It's Counting Crows jamming with Dave Grohl, Tom Verlaine on steroids, The Strokes rewriting MeatLoaf. Sharply produced and displaying the authentic powers of The Boss himself, Josh Flagg is very definitely 'one to watch', as they say at Billboard.



Tom Moriaty - Fire In The Doll's House (Driftwood Records)

Charlie from Busted has a solo career now. I mean as well as that band he's in that isn't Busted. Did you know that? I have heard one song and it sounds like he wants to be Willy Mason now. I don't yet know what to do with this information so I'm putting it in the introduction of this Tom Moriaty review because I don't know what to do with him either.

I hate these situations. An album where someone has a great voice, clearly understands songwriting and...and...I can't decide if I care. Mostly I don't care. At all. Some albums have made me care less about people who I love. They were that bad.

I am still listening to this album and I am still stalling. I am coming to the realisation that sometimes gentle is OK. Sometimes it is also fine to listen to music that doesn't make me want to run into things, spazz out with the time-changes or dream of flying over the crowd while explosians go off every third note. Sometimes music isn't Fugazi either. All this has meant that I have decided that I am going to, like I do with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, have Fugazi's genre as “Fugazi”. The genre for Tom Moriaty will be “Gentle” or something long, descriptive, funny to me only and of no use when it comes to grouping artists because that is how I use genres.

I continue to be wary of “singer-songwriters”. I think it is because of my assumption that if you're playing with no band and it is just you, a guitar (or other instrument. I'm not a fascist) and some songs, they had better mostly be yours or you're no damn use to anyone. Also, if you're calling yourself a singer-songwriter you're probably trying to sleep with the person you're talking to.

I keep writing stuff, I keep listenig to this album, I keep stalling. Stalling. Stalling. As I stall, I lurch back to thinking it's not so bad. Good even. Tom Moriaty should shoot whoever at Driftwood actually compared him to Ryan Adams, Tom Waits and Ray LaMontagne though. He should even be upset if they'd compared him to Frank Turner somehow. He should be upset because he's better than that lazy comparison...but not good enough (yet) to stand WITH them rather than fill a gap until they release something new and that is really the only reason to compare someone to artists like that – fill your time with these guys until the people you're waiting for do something.

This is the fourth album I have reviewed tonight. In an unprecedented occurance all four of them are going onto my iPod and staying there. Tonight I have gravitated towards the LOUD.

I have an iPod classic. I don't have a neck tattoo, or a fixie bike.

Christopher Carney


Max Raptor - Portraits (NaimEdge)

I want to go out more than I do.
I want to be slamming myself against a crowd of other people as they slam back. I want to be on stage and I want to make you scream

So I'm probably in the mood for this stuff. I am receptive to riffs most of the time but tonight Max Raptor finds me especially in the mood. I don't want to break anything but I do want to let off steam. I don't want to hurt or damage anyone or anything but I do want to run very fast. I wouldn't be upset doing all that, to this.

I have not been to a gig where I got sweaty in what seems like forever. I'm listening to this and it's all I want to do.

Perhaps you should take this with a pinch of salt, but right now I am WELL into this.

When I skipped from track 2 to 3 I hoped that there wouldn't be a quiet song or a slow song on this album.

The final tests are: Will it go on my own playlist?
Will I play it?
Yes. To both. Even with the regional singing.

Christopher Carney


Gatechien – 4 (Pyromane)

I love Fugazi. They are one of my favourite bands. Ian Mackaye is one of the very few people who the more he talks the more I think of him. One of the best gigs I ever went to was Fugazi at Leeds Met in Halloween 2001.

Gatechien like Fugazi too. You can tell.
I'm not so into the attempts to sing link Ian, because really only he can get away with it. I am down with the awesome songs though. I am into not sticking to a formula. I am into music being intelligent and also fun. I am always a little amused by how bands that do not have English as their first language can sometimes have changeable accents when they sing in English.

I have not sat and listened to music for a while. I have had music on and I have travelled with earphones in. I haven't listened to stuff I didn't already own though. I have missed doing that. Call it goodwill if you want but I am completely predisposed to be receptive to everything tonight.
I am glad that I seem to have got a rich vein of awesome in my review bag.

The above is true, I am feeling remarkeably amenable to all music tonight. However I am really enjoying this. Part of it is because they sound like Fugazi but a great deal of it is that this is genuinely interesting. They can even get away...just...with calling a song menage a trois and another deja vu. Some of that is because they're French, some of it is because of the shouting, a lot of it is because of the guitar and more still because they're TOP. I like that they have a song called cliché and then the following songs are called de ja vu, cul de sac and c'est la vie. That's pretty funny.

Should I ever feel like being reductive about them though, I'd say “they sound like Fugazi...but Fugazi had a go at all kinds of stuff, so sounding like Fugazi'll never be boring if you do it right.”

Christopher Carney


The Elektrocution – Trouble Magnet (Pyromane!)

If you're a “Rock n Roll band....we play Rock n Roll”, and that is a genre and even a type of person, you will one day write a song or even name an album Trouble Magnet. If you do people will think you're from Sweden when they play that album. That sentence made me do something I decided long ago not to...I checked the promo for something other than the release date...I think they're from France.

The Elektrocution spell their name differently to that thing that happens when you pee on the electric fence and they play “Rock n Roll, that's it.”

None of the quotes in this review can be attributed to the band or anyone associated with them because I made them up. They are purely descriptive. The Elektrocution have put a K where a C should be and still, still I am OK with them existing. Lazy people will compare them to The International Noise Conspiracy and then go and lament the fact that there are too few bands being Refused these days.

I don't see it that way. I like to listen to Rock n Roll, I like to make every day a a manifestation of love, joy, confusion and revolt too, I want to name an album The First Ever Flawless Album and get away with it. I am ok with guitars,bass,drum,vocals as a way of life. I'm still a little bemused with the love for bands like Ride some people have...but I'm OK with turning up to see those people play music...I'll probably go off to somewhere that plays Refused afterwards and get sweaty though.

The track Out Of Breath sounds like The Voltaires. Listen to this album, then go and see The Voltaires.

If you do call a song Trouble Magnet it better not suck. If it does you lose more points than bands who write bad songs that aren't called Trouble Magnet. The Elektromagnet only really lose points for being not quite raucous enough and being called The Elektromagnet. Trouble Magnet, the song is ace. PHEW!

Christopher Carney


Slow Down Tallahassee – Curly Cuh

This album might as well be called ‘Slow Down Tallahassee are Fucking Dead’. Released after their break up, this LP is infuriating. Every single track is fantastic and we’ll never get to hear new music from this band again. Shame on them.

Slow Down Tallahassee sound(ed) like a stripped back Kenickie alternately playing either sped up Cure covers or synth-heavy twee pop with a snarl. According to the press kit that came with this album, this is their ‘death album’, it’s also their break up album (No More Pain has a line that no other band can get away with: ‘please stay with me/ I’m dying without you’). If anyone else recorded this album, it would be a twenty-four carat downer, but not these guys! In their hands it’s a sugar-coated, twenty-four carat downer!

There’s something that sounds a bit familiar about Slow Down Tallahassee, I think it’s in the way they do that thing that Pulp were good at: wrapping up realistic, often pretty negative lyrics in a pretty, unassuming pop song. It is something that bands from Sheffield see to be especially good at. There must be something cynical in the water.
You can’t fail to fall in love with a band that rhymes ‘yes’ with ‘Sagittarius’. There’s a vein of silly/seriousness running through Curly Cuh that other bands wouldn’t even dabble with, especially not on an album that returns to themes like death and breakups repeatedly. But that’s what makes Slow Down Tallahassee so instantly loveable. They deal with “the big issues” with such giggly aplomb.
Basically put: If you love twee, jangly, jaggy-edged pop songs and dancing you’ll love this album. If you don’t love that, then you’re broken and there’s no saving you. Sorry.

Dan Shields


Monkey Island – Luxe et Redux

You’ve gotta love a band who are named after one of the most loved cult video games of all time, and I do, but only to a certain extent.

Monkey Island are, apparently, ‘avant garagistes’, whilst that’s a bit too pretentious for my liking, it fits. They play (for the most part) angular, bluesy rock and roll. Apparently recorded in a day, Luxe et Redux is a 16 track flurry of dirty-sounding garage punk with a generous twist of ‘random’. The ‘random’ is the key part. It’s good to hear a record where the bands aren’t afraid to experiment or do something that might just sound a little bit silly. Luxe et Redux takes in everything from sea shanty punk, to 50s rock and roll and, on Demockracy, extended, a cappella folk interludes.

There are moments where the garage rock shtick starts to feel real tired (c’mon, the early noughties were a long time ago now) any time that starts to happen though, there comes another kinda weird moment that makes you smile and that’s the key to this album’s failure or success in the ears of the listener. Personally though, I spent a long time flip-flopping between being fed up with garage rock and loving the quirky parts.

It’s all a bit Cramps-esque at times and obviously, that’s a good thing, but the garage rock template is really worn threadbare. Though this is (at times) a good album and definitely an interesting one, it’s not entirely my thing. I think I’m having a flare up of heard-it-all-before-itis...

Dan Shields


Mojo Fury - Visiting Hours of a Travelling Circus

Tense drums and gutar stabs build into a furious, fuzzed-up, bass-led stomp. On first track The Mann, Mojo Fury do their best to sound like a nice, presentable radio-friendly Future of The Left, complete with masses of furious guitar noise and the type of chorus Muse would be proud of. The music’s good and it’s well done, but it’s missing something. A sense of urgency, i think. I don’t know. Visiting Hours... just chugs along at a nice, non-threatening pace for the most part.

I don’t want to alarm you, but I think this might be a textbook case of difficult first album. Despite being together since 2004, Mojo Fury just don't seem to know what they sound like yet. Visiting Hours... feels like a collection of references to their influences wrapped up in distracting guitar noise. There’s a pinch of Nine Inch Nails here, a bit of Nirvana there, a lot of generally Nineties alt-rock souding bits. Whilst this is a bad thing, it feels like a lot of these influences are just tacked onto the songs, they don’t seem absorbed into Mojo Fury’s sound and as a result, the music doesn’t seem new or exciting.

Towards the end of the album, everything seems to come together. There’s less dependence on ‘rocking out’. Verses are moodier, the instrumentation becomes sparse and expertly deployed. The last track, Electric Sea, sounds world weary and beautiful before finally exploding into a loud, well-earned finale. This track is where the band briefly shine: They play to their strengths musically and the vocals aren’t just gibberish like on earlier songs.

Mojo Fury do a good impression of a good rock band, but if they stopped trying so hard, they'd just be a great rock band.

Dan Shields


The Pattern Theory – The Pattern Theory (Valeot Records)

Despite currently being based in Berlin, Germany, The Pattern Theory were actually formed in Leeds during 2007. ‘The Pattern Theory’ follows an EP that was highly praised and consequently sold out.

Seemingly following the concept that twenty great ideas are better than one, ‘The Pattern Theory’ is bursting at the seams with interesting rhythms and melodies. Appearing to take a complex rhythm and regularly alter it slightly for its reappearance throughout a track works superbly here and gives the tracks a real sense of progression whilst retaining their identity. Solely instrumental, each track has a real essence of beauty and quality about it. Although the structures are often complex the sounds are organic and free flowing, ranging from glances at the expansionism and excesses of prog rock to the ‘70’s cop show opening credits feel of ‘Pyramid Schemes’. This record clearly demonstrates why its construction period was almost two years long.

‘The Pattern Theory’ is a stunning release and one that will hopefully receive similar praise to that lauded on Emeralds last year. 9/10

Mark Whiffin


And So I Watch You From Afar - Gangs (Richter Collective)

‘Gangs’ is the follow up to And So I Watch You From Afar’s well received, self-titled debut. Incredibly it was primarily written over a period of just four weeks after the band decided they were unhappy with a large number of tracks they had readied for the recording process. After taking bits and pieces from the already demoed tracks the band wrote a whole new set and recorded them in their hometown of Belfast during last year’s busy summer of festival appearances.

‘Gangs’ is an album that appears to convey many emotions throughout its forty four minute length. There is the sense of excitement and recklessness of ‘Gang (starting never stopping)’, with its crazy, possessed free riffing perfect to soundtrack an out of hand student party, just before the police arrive. ‘Homes’, a section spanning two tracks, is far more reflective tapping into the feelings of returning to familiar surroundings after the discovery of new places. Album closer, ‘Lifeproof’, conjures up the creativity and innovation that so many instrumental bands can only dream of with its carnival conclusion of multi-layered samba rhythms.

This is a highly recommended release; another one for And So I Watch You From Afar and one of many over the last year for Richter Collective – a label that can currently do no wrong. 8/10

Mark Whiffin


Bell X1 - 'Bloodless Coup' (BellyUp)

As you might already suspect, Bell X1 take their name from an aircraft, in this instance an experimental 1950s supersonic jet, reminding me of the very obscure Neville Shute novel my fifth form english class had to read, the actually unforgettable 'No Highway'. This, if you've little acquaintance with any of the lesser known writing from the author of 'A Town Like Alice', is a story set amongst the highly competitve world of post war aircraft design, and does in fact concern the various attempts to put the first commercial passenger jets into the air. Nailbiting stuff, I think you'll agree.

Bell X1 the band take slightly fewer risks with their music though. They are highly competent and indeed professional sounding musicians, but their influences appear to begin and end with New Order, making 'Bloodless Coup' a very near addition to the Mancunians actual discography. and while the NO aficianados among you will doubtlessly lap it up, there isn't quite enough originality in Bell X1's smoothly melodic electronica to really raise much in the way of response from this listener, and it's only on track 6, with the slightly out of character angularities of '4 Minute Mile' that Bell X1 even threaten to break sweat, and the pervasive lack of energy is eventually contagious. 'Bloodless Coup' never quite takes flight, as it were.



The Lucky Face - s/t

Tim Mullineux has done what very few of us ever really achieve. He's formed a band, so far as I can make out almost entirely on his own, and is gleefully indulging his Britpop fantasies with a combination of mockney elan and a certain wry humour. Taken on their own, The Lucky Face's songs are at least quite good, crashing bar chords and sardonic observations given added impetus through Mullineux's own enthusiasm and his cheerfuly matey persona. He'd make a great postman.

Mullineux certainly makes a serious bid for art pop notoriety, if not actual immortality with this 12 tracker. It's another grey evening down Tim's street but the guitars are in tune, the words all rhyme and look what the cat's doing ... there just isn't time for boredom when there's the 1990s to relive in their entirety between now and the R4 closedown tune. The Lucky Face are more than just lucky, and at their best, Mullineux's songs actually reach the giddy heights of Davies and Welleresque wit and assonance. Fab.



Manzana Carnal - 'Perfectly Flawed (and other lies)

Industrial cabaret, anyone? I actually doubt if that self imposed description fully encapsulates what Manzana Carnal are about, but it'll more than suffice for the moment. Infusing latino jazz rhythms with a hefty dose of post-structuralist and nu prog influenced guitar and a vocal reminiscent of Lydia Lunch covering Billie Holiday, Manzana Carnal manage to sound purposefully eclectic in an uncontrived way, as well as energetic, tuneful and downright unclassifiable. I've heard several jazz influenced albums recently but this is a genuinely inspired and, importantly, a consistently entertaining album, recorded live in someone's Manhattan loft apartment last autumn and posessed of nervy, wilfully twisted energies.

I just stuck this on as background music to this darkening evening I'm spending listening to new music and writing about it and it slides out of the speakers with more chutzpah, melodic assurance, virtuosity and downright ability than I think I've heard this year, from anyone. It's the kind of jazz fusion album I and doubtlessly several of you reading this spend hours if not weeks looking for and it shifts effortlessly from bluesy ballad to angular post rock to electronica to folk influenced satire, each track building upon its predecessor in a manner that's at once haphazard and tightly scored. I can tell you very little about the band themselves but that doesn't, in this instance, detract from the music significantly. Perhaps Industrial Cabaret is the most accurate description for them after all.



Soundgarden – Live on I5 (Ume)

Is it the case that Chris Cornell has spent so much money on personal grooming products that he has already burned his way through the royalties of Soundgarden’s back catalogue and even the lucrative Bond film theme tune fee? Gone are the days of the scraggy haired, shorts wearing Sub Pop ape, seemingly replaced now with a band who will jump into bed with anyone who offers a few quid. In the past couple of years, two greatest hits albums, a sickening tie-in with Guitar Hero and now reforming for a reunion tour, the whole genesis of this album leaves me feeling a little bit uneasy. But fortunately this retrospectively released live album captures the band perfectly at the height of their powers, warts and all.

First off there is the pretty raw production values which captures the power of the live performance straight away through the grunty ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Searching with My Good Eye Closed’. ‘Let Me Down’ is a searing, raggy barrage of noise which is as inaccurate as it is adrenaline inducing – the perfect cocktail for a live recording in my eyes. Quality control seems to generally been overlooked in favour of completeness, a refreshingly honest format which gives rise to a couple of really lumpen sounding performances in ‘Outshine’ and ‘Burden in My Hand’ – Cornell seems to be trying too hard to introduce a bit of life to it and the whole thing just falls apart a little.

There’s room for a couple of nice cover versions – ‘Helter Skelter’ being a particularly interesting take on the Beatles original as opposed to the rock staple of covering ‘Search and Destroy’. There’s the archetypal self indulgent 10 minute track (‘Slaves and Bulldozers’), the commercial crowd pleaser (‘Black Hole Sun’ – performed solo by Cornell) and the big finish as a blistering version of ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ closes the curtain.

I may be a bit dubious of the band and their motives in their current guise but there’s no doubt in my mind that this is a live album of some distinction. It’s hard to believe this is the first tour the band ever decided to record live and seeing as they split soon after, it stands alone as a record of Soundgarden at the height of their power. Enjoy the moment; enjoy the ropey bits as much as the classic – this album is a gem. 9/10



The Douglas Firs - Happy As A Windless Flag (Armellodie Records)

The brainchild of Edinburgh based Neil Insh, The Douglas Firs’ debut album has spent a period of seven long years in creation.

An ambitious concoction of field recordings, brass, racing percussion and glorious harmonies, this is ultimately a triumph of an album. First track, ‘I Will Kill Again’, an account of an unknown soldiers’ death, immediately reminds of the Super Furry Animals with its well crafted technicolour layers of sound approach and subtle opening. The war theme is continued on 'A Military Farewell' which showcases perfectly the inventiveness of the album, using the American paratroopers refrain ..."gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die" create an anthemic, brass soaked rouser of a song. Field recordings appear throughout the album, furthering its already organic and traditional feel.

This is certainly an ‘album’ rather than a collection of songs and it is essential it is listened to in its entirety – ideally in a darkened room with the phone switched off. Neil Insh is a man of great musical ideas and ‘Happy As A Windless Flag’ displays these clearly for all to hear. 8/10

Mark Whiffin


Feldberg - Don't be a stranger (Smalltown America)

The summer is upon us again and not to miss a trick those clever people at Smalltown America are breathing new life into an album around since 2009 but only scheduled for its official UK release this month. The pairing of talented multi-instrumentalist Eberg (Einar Tonsberg) with jazz chanteuse Rosa Birgitta Isfeld is hardly a new phenomenon, but Icelandic dreampop duo Feldberg have thrown a lot of good songs into the mix on their impressive debut Don't Be A Stranger. So another band from this curious island of post-economic meltdown and volcanic ash ... but what is it that artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros, Gus Gus, Emiliana Torrini, Hafdis Huld and Mum actually have in common apart from speaking better English than us and being from the same landmass?

Great pop music may be one thing, and if Feldberg sound familiar to our ears it would be too easy to pigeonhole them: on Don't Be A Stranger there's a lot more going on than meets the ear first time. Maybe few will mourn the passing of French band Telepopmusik (featuring Angela McCluskey) in the noughties, but that's the closest I can get to comparisons here, those 2 albums Genetic World and Angel Milk were rather patchy but had a strange allure and spoke to those worrying times, a mixed-up world where technology struggles to find a more a more human face and anyway let's dance the night away to escape the threat of of mad and bad science! The arrangements of Feldberg's songs show off a similar kind of sophistication but offer a wider musical palette, with Isfeld's enchanting voice, like McCluskey's, at the heart of everything, a touch of lightness shot through with warm Billie Holiday-esque charms (listen to a song like 'Sleepy', for example, and pass me the coffee!).

Album opener 'In Your Army' (or should that be 'In Your Arms'? Can it really be a typo?) is a great electro-chilled pop song that could easily have come out of Air's top drawer (aka Beth Hersch on 'Moon Safari', for example) and immediately sets the tone for the album:

"It's impossible unobtainable/getting what you want and hurting no one/
I'll understand if you go/Never said it wasn't so/I'm all alone but I'd rather be in your arms/Breath in and out/Release your doubts/We don't need them/ We don't feed them/I never said it wasn't so/I forgot to let you know"

The label will be keen to plug award-winning song 'Dreamin' again, recently featured on French boutique label Kitsune as part of their 'Maison 9' collection, this time round surely the feel-good hit of the summer, but 'Farewell' which precedes it is also a nice jangling piece of twee pop, with more conventional instruments and a sun-drenched chorus, so you can close your eyes and drift off downstream in the long hot summer ahead. Eberg throws a musical fanfare at 'Running Around' with oboe, banjo, horns, xylophone, kitchen sink etc. (omit kitchen sink!), and there's a lot of fun in Isfeld's vocal which reminds me of Aimee Mann's work in the 90's. 'You & Me' may be a nod to The Wannadies' 'You And Me Song' with the same annoyingly good chorus doubtlessly inducing many involuntary singing moments in the shower! The title track has itself featured heavily on Feldberg's promotions (the official video is available on YouTube and is well worth a viewing as long as you don't blink too much) and the album's closing track 'Love Me Tomorrow' shows off a harder edge to the band's music and maybe offers a sign of things to come? Don't Be A Stranger can be a bit twee at times, but it's a nicely rounded album with some winsome and summery tunes, and, like all great pop music, it draws you in, keeps you there and repays repeated listening. So a surefire soundtrack for the summer then ... let's hope the weather stays nice!

Matthew Haddrill


Hauschka - Salon des Amateurs

I am on a train not yet moving, unless you count the gentle vibration of the engine. (I'm not sure about gentle. It's not uncomfortable.)

I am at the stage of being late where I am exactly aware of the minutes, yet can do nothing about them. This train will not go through Reading.

I'm less optimistic about this day than I was when I woke up. But when the train moves, when I can feel myself moving, when the ticker starts, when it's frantic, when things pick up, then they'll pick up.

Phil Coales