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albums - june 2011


   
 

Trumpets Of Death - Teeth + Teeth = Teeths (Tin Angel Records)

Trumpets Of Death display all the traits of a highly original band on ‘Teeth + Teeth = Teeths’. Combining their dark free-jazz grooves with the theatrical vocal style of Ben Weatherill creates an intriguing sound and one that should entrance many listeners.

Opening track ‘The Press Gang’, like other tracks here, builds slowly before morphing into a free roaming jazzosaurous trampling all around. ‘The Paper Flow’ continues in a similar vein before breaking out in a crazy infectious swing jazz session with the seductive refrain “…come on, take your clothes off, we’ll dance around…” ‘Jason’ and ‘Woodrow Lament’ are far more subdued affairs before the latter transforms mid-track into a bizarre jazz take on stoner rock. One of the stranger comparisons that could be made is with the out-there jazz experimentation of early Deus releases.

In summary this is a unique and interesting release and one which appears to please more with each listen. 7/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Awesome Wells - 'Carry On Awesome Wells'

There are two bands called Awesome Wells. One is the recently reformed all female Liverpool indie pop outfit, and the other is an anonymous musician who writes music in Malaysia and records it in Hove. 'Carry On ...' is the work of the 2nd Awesome Wells, so anyone hoping for a larky indie guitar knees up might feel slightly deflated. Anyone hoping to hear some eastern inflected, breezily effervescent manga pop may find the ten tracks here very much to their liking though.

'Luchadora' is a summery rickshaw ride of a tune, boppily coloured with gamelan (an Indonesian xylophone) tones, 'Bears' is a more leisurely ballad, its piano notes dropping like monsoon rain from a plam frond, while 'Sunday Evening' is a busy sounding instrumental built around repetitive keyboard and percussion; perhaps Sundays are the happening night of the week in Jakarta. Mr Wells very accurately conveys his experience of life in the Malay peninsula throughout all of the tracks here, sounding a lot like David Gray hailing a taxi in Brisbane as he does so, and while the music also does sound a little stuck in the early 2000s, at least several of the listeners who purchase one of the 50 available CD copies (yes, I said 50) will find this to their liking, Awesome Wells being a band who could easily find themselves filed alongside Mercury Rev and the Lips, such is their delicately structured and wispily tuneful nature. It's all pleasant enough, but I cannot help wondering exactly what would happen if both incarnations of the AW name were ever to meet in the studio: the results might contain something more in the way of actual entertainment value than 'Carry On...' actually delivers.
http://awesomewells.bandcamp.com

JG

 

The Horn The Hunt - 'Depresseur Jolie' (WLM)

The electronic duo of Joseph Osbourne and Clare Carter's second album is a sombre, dramatic affair, and it didn't matter how many times I ran it through the Google translator, there is no literal English equivalent of the album's title. What I or any of the albums listeners think the phrase refers to is up for grabs, seemingly. 'Depressingly pretty' is obvious, although the combined megawattage of the entire internet couldn't find those words for me, I had to sort of guess it out, while listening to THTH's equally mysterious synth melodies and quirky, sultry vocals.

Aware that electronica of this kind is inevitably overshadowed by the legacy of early 80s innovation, THTH's most apparent strength is in the fluidity of their rhythmic patterns, which consistently retain a supple energy and avoid falling into flatly robotic repetition. Over the twelve tracks, their tunes are also consistently inventive and while there's a darkly sardonic streak running through the entire album, the mood is far from gloomy. THTH's heart is a human, not a mechanical one, and Clare Carter's poetic lyricism is deftly matched with her vocal skill. This allows THTH to explore their borderline obsession with animals, and single 'Old Town Cow' is a highlight of an already notable collection of songs, although even this is eclipsed by the discordant histrionics of 'Animal Magic'. The nature (or factory farm) themed songs are possibly a hint of a more conceptual album, and THTH could certainly carry that off with some skill. As it stands though, 'Depresseur Jolie' is an expansive nocturnal experience, the sound of a twilit evening in a tent near a motorway, mildly eccentric and posessed of a subtle grandeur.
www.thehornthehunt.com

JG

 

Austerlitz – Austerlitz

Austerlitz. The name might be more familiar to historians. It was back in December of 1805 when Napoleon Bonaparte beat the Austrian emperor Franz II and the Russian Tsar Alexander I at the battle of Austerlitz, which became known as the Battle of the Three Emperors.

The Parisian three-piece Austerlitz reveals associations with that historic event. They might see themselves as three emperors, too. In the aftermath of the battle, Napoleon succeeded to confirm his dominion over the European powers. This reads very ambitious for the Parisian band. But anyways, aren’t we used to a little taste of French megalomania, Mr Sarkozy? Anyway, Austerlitz’s attempt to establish a new musical Grande Nation is ambitious indeed. We can find the typical French voiced sensibility in the vocals that are topped on the basic rock/pop attempts. However, their songs always try to break out of this scheme, the guitar sooner or later cracks in to counter the superficial French lightness with progressive darkness. It is this ambiguity between the smoothness of the vocals and the darkness kicking in which constitutes the core of Austerlitz’s intent. This leads to very pleasant parts, like “Walking Into Fire” with its organ floating to the very pleasant chorus, the beginning of “Happy Song” (before the voice turns it into a fairly bland prog-song), “Seattle Town”’s tingling but heavy guitar intro (and the voice that’s, this time, on the cutting edge of an Incubus-infected Megalomaniac style) was well as the punk-thrasher of “Rotten Ears”.

These examples reveal that Austerlitz is able to compose quite nice ideas for their account of progressive rock. But the fact is that they fail on justifying it with really good songs which set them apart from all the other self-proclaimed saviours of arts and pop music. Their self-claim does not go far enough to create a great effort for the Grande Nation. Looks like the association with the battle of 1805 is quite appropriate. Napoleon, as the figure of the human progression through enlightenment, had some just ideas like the code civil. But his main feature is another one: The master of French megalomania. Oh, too much interpretation you think? In that case: Austerlitz is quite an ‘okay’ progressive rock piece that does not have much to offer. Not more.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Help Stamp Out Loneliness – s/t (Where It’s At Is Where You Are/Pappilons Noir)

Help Stamp Out Loneliness (HSOL) provide their self-titled debut album. The main feature in the sound of the Manchester sextet is a twee-poppy instrumentation and mainly singer’s D. Lucille’s dark Nico-esque voice. This becomes obvious in the very good opener “Cottonpolis + Promises”: dark but warm and girly lost-in-thought vocals meet twee indie-folk-pop instrumentation. I can already hear Stuart Murdoch knocking on HSOL’s door and demanding his songs back.
Though this is not a simple copy of Belle and Sebastian. The change in sound that is offered by too cheesy key effects in “A Ghost With A Hammer In His Hand” does not rightly work for that song, but a modern dance beat does not prove too modern for “Palma Violence”. Instead this beat incorporates a pleasant variety in their sound and lays the fitting ground for the dreary and shady flair. Some of the fillers on the debut album also try not to stick to the twee-pop-folk image too much, which sometimes feels a little disrupted by too heavy guitars or too breathless instruments. HSOL prove strongest when they cling to their very good song-writing and their C86 heritage, which sounds very pleasant in your moments of daydreaming. And if Stuart Murdoch does not want his songs back, he surely will invite Nico, sorry, D. Lucille for joining one of his projects.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Sassy!!! – Diggin‘ Deep (Good Trouble Records)

Sassy !!! are a two-piece rock band from California. And they are dangerous. The all-girl duet plays fuzzy garage punk-rock, but always know how to get a good pop-tune out of it. Basically it is garage punk, with its punky punch and a Riot Grrrl punk scum attitude, but songs like “So Bad It’s Good” reveal their 60s pop minimalism. Weren’t there pearls like “Be Alright”, thirteen songs in thirty-five minutes would have been too long for the repetitive sounds. The outcome still is very pleasing, though also very measurable: monotonous riffs, hammering beats and poppy angry girl voices. But watch out, these two girls are dangerous!

Wolfgang Günther

 

Shirley Lee – Winter Autumn Summer Spring (Missing Page)

The idea of the concept album still is not dead, despite the disruption of modern forms of distributing music. Shirley Lee’s “Winter Autumn Summer Spring” is one of those beautifully anachronistic concepts. On the double-album he elaborates the all-embracing topics of love and death by telling the story of a couple heading to San Francisco to get married and meeting a suicidal stranger who gets saved and becomes witness for their wedding. Love and loss gets foiled on the two parts “Winter Autumn” and “Summer Spring”. Lee achieved two things with this framing concept: He created a truly beautiful melancholic piece, and revealed the weakness of concept albums. But that really should not be his undoing.

At the opener of “Winter Autumn”, “Maidenhead”, “Sympathy For The Devil” peeks around the corner, and marks one of the best songs on the album; it suits best to Lee’s pleasant timbre and reveals his rich talent of producing coherent songs. Yet already the second song “Death”, a softly melancholic daydream contemplation, shows the flaw of Lee’s concept: it turns into a completely different song after the core of the song is finished, leaving you with a disturbed feeling. And that is the pity, Lee has to make the sacrifice for the concept album to force and tell the story, which comes to expenses of not being able to elaborate most of the songs completely; some remain only sketches.

Lee explains his richness of ideas that once he knew that he was about to do a double concept album “the flood gates opened and all kinds of ideas came through”. This proves his vast amount of talent, but at the same time is the flaw of the concept. Some more coherent, elaborated songs would have led to a more pleasant listening experience over the thirty songs.

Despite this criticism, Lee is able to produce a richness of suitable and pleasant songs, sketches and ideas. “Winter Light” gives a refreshing change from acoustic guitar picking to light electro ambient of krautrock. When Lee sings “The girl in the book I read/ Is always you” he shows how well he can connect melancholic song-writing with identifying lyrics.
But he not only pursues his melancholic singer-songwriter-pop. “I Remember You”, the opener of “Summer Spring” provides more lively settings and makes the thematic twist from introspected to an outgoing variant of melancholy. Once more he proves his talent with different stylistic devices as on “An Old Cricketer (For John Peel)” that shows a surprising semblance to Mark Oliver Everett of Eels.

All these highlights make up a very good, very pleasant and very enjoyable album. Also the small pieces of ideas and sketches prove the extent of his talent. Though they would have suited him better in small portions of elaborated single songs. Yet the way he turned with the double-album was right; there are very pleasant moments among the thirty songs that could prevail their essence by not being destroyed through elaborated long and bland standard singer-songwriter songs. The sketches maintained the beauty of the original ideas. And Shirley Lee proved that he is full of talent and ideas.

The way for the next album is clear: it has to meet very high expectations.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Tellison – The Wages of Fear (Naim Edge)

Listeners of alternative rock usually know what they have to expect in that genre. Not too many surprises. Tellison are one of those typical alternative bands in the likes of Jimmy Eat World and Motion City Soundtrack. These are not really my favourite bands or my favourite genre. So it was quite a shock to listen to the opener “Get On”. What an awful overpowering voice! What an awful alternative rock standard! But I gave them a chance, and dug deeper into Tellison’s second record. They revealed quite a good style. “Know Thy Foe” is a nice alternative pop song. Of course that is what you can expect, good alternative standards, sometimes catchy, sometimes melancholic, hardly any surprises. But then the middle of the album kicks in. “Collarbone” for example is a good and easy pop tune that totally works out. Among all the other typical alt-standards (“Rapture” with a sensitive, but too soft touch as one of the better), two songs remind you why fans of this genre really can expect. It is not as bland and predictable as it seemed from the first glance. “Letters From Pre-Med” provides the best surrounding for the complicated voice; with this ace hook it suits in best, because it sounds effortless.

Apart from that song, the most remarkable surely is “Freud Links The Teeth And The Heart”. Rarely have I heard a similar heart-warming song about love that is NOT cheesy. Instead it is ultimate combination of intelligence and charm. The sound is different from the rest, very slow, soft and smooth; the guitars remain in the background, only laying down the carpet, sometimes sprinkling an implied melody. The perfect setting for a love confession for your dentist: “My dentist’s a girl from France/ I fancy off her pants” of course reads like a very immature no-go, but it relativises into charm with the vulnerable confession “She says to me/ Please take care of your teeth/ And I say to her/ Please take care of my heart”. Love never was better linked to toothache. Both need the right amount of care.

Now I know what alternative listeners long to expect. A charming surprise like such a sweet toothache.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Love Motel – We Are You (Poor Records)

The work of Geneva based producer, Love Motel return with an album full of electro based disco tracks.

Featuring down and dirty bass lines and pulsating electronics, garnished with a well produced vocal, this release seems to attempt to straddle the hands-in-the-air 3am club crowds and the post club chill out. The album flows seamlessly despite different vocalists and its sequencing has obviously been meticulously planned. Whilst not afraid to experiment with looped, slow burning guitars on ‘Never Die Again’, a brave experiment on this genre of release that should be commended, it is unfortunately let down by lyrics that remind of poor teenage poetry “…They can not erase, your hopes and your smile, now you’re an angel…”

Despite featuring some strong musical tracks, particularly electro pop opener and title track ‘We Are You’, this would probably be a far more successful release without many of the cringeworthy lyrics and vocal delivery that remind of Euro pop hell. 4/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Night Noise Team – Slow Release (Permwhale Recordings)

Sometimes life promises so much and ultimately disappoints. This is certainly the case with this album from Night Noise Team. Accompanied by a press release offering comparisons to Joy Division, Interpol, Manic Street Preachers and The Buzzcocks it is hard to find even glimpses of any of these amongst what can only be described as a flat and unrewarding listening experience.

Unfortunately there’s an air of desperation hovering over the album, from the lyrics continual need to focus on a clichéd rock and roll lifestyle (“…we’re drinking wine in the morning…”, “…all the drugs we’re on”…) to the aforementioned press release and its claims of a “…Venn diagram of influences and tangents, nationalities and noise…” More obvious, and certainly accurate comparisons, can be made to ‘Head Music’ era Suede, early Brit Pop also-rans Marion and the nauseating Hard-Fi.

This is a disappointing record on a number of levels and trading standards should certainly investigate Night Noise Team as it’s clearly a case of an inaccurate and inappropriate group name for this bland offering. 3/10

 

Kafka – Geografia (Pyromane Records)

The press release for this was pretty painful, with some quite amazingly strangulated English. To wit; “From their beginning in 2002, Kafka let his imagination wander according to his inspiration, his aspirations and his breaths”. What. The. Fuck. I’m not getting any sense of mystery here as to whether Kafka is a “he” or a “they”, but in my own typically small-minded way, I’m starting to get annoyed. Why am I talking about a press release, you wonder despairingly? Well, there’s only so far you can go when discussing the merits of an instrumental album. Thankfully though, it’s a million times better than the press release.

Actually, it’s really rather good in places. Codeine for the ears really. The undoubted highlight is the opening vignette “Idio’s Groove” which takes a minute and a half to get off the blocks, but is worth the wait with moodily afro-centric guitar motifs weaving their way around a steady off-set groove. Equally enthralling is the castanet-tinged shimmer of “The Stream”. Elsewhere, “The Throb of Time” settles into Mogwai-esque dissonance while “Crumpled Paper” brings to mind post-rock from further north in the hemisphere from the likes of Sickoakes et al. “Spirals” starts off all “Voodoo Child” before mutating into a throbbing tribal stomp and “Spheres” and closer “Soto Ni Deru” returns to themes developed at the start of the album, in a Mike Oldfield does post-rock kind of way.

It’s a slightly bitty album, in that the start and end of the album are clearly aesthetically linked while it tends to lose its way stylistically in the middle. And it’s this lack of coherence that makes it fall short of being a great record. All that said though, there is nothing overtly offensive and there are many moments that make this a record well worth delving into. 7/10
www.myspace.com/kafkafr

Rory Mac

 

Nox – Freaks (Depot 214 Records)

Second effort following on from the eponymous debut in 2008 from the Belgian 3 piece. Opener “Electricity” shows them at their best accompanying the dialogue sample from “The Day The Earth Stood Still” beautifully and Catherine Graindorge’s violin shimmers its way through proceedings like an angel trapped in a glass cage. The sample from the film also perhaps unconsciously points toward the cinematic side of their approach. And this, to an extent becomes my chief problem with Nox - trying to reconcile whether this as an album which is a suite of music in its own right, or whether it’s just a number of disparate strands that are being used as a showcase for their sound-tracking ability. While some of the music is very powerfull; “Doppler Effect” is a beautifully sad track as is “Monsoon” with its distant surf guitar riff. Equally though, there are moments that are quite dull; “Smoke” fails to capture the imagination and the final track outstays its welcome by several minutes. 6/10
www.myspace.com/noxtrio

Rory Mac

 

Trojan Horse – Trojan Horse (Self-Release)

Manchester “Prog Nouveau” band release first album that has been three years in the making. Basically, there is very little prog about them. They’re more Mercury Rev crossed with Dukes of Stratosphear really. This is fine as it goes but at some points their attempts at humour seem a bit forced. The “Yo Ho, and a Bottle of Rum” refrain in the middle of first track “Mr Engels Says” springs immediately to mind and makes them appear to be trying slightly too hard to come across like psychedelic acid casualties. This is a shame as bits (bits mind) of the song are really quite good. The first half of the album does tend to suffer from multiple personality disorder and as such can be a tiring listen, trying to keep up with all the changes in meter and style. By the end of the second song I did kind of feel that I’d listened to two full albums, such is the schizophrenic nature of the material. Thing is, when they quit this pretence and just get on with writing songs, they are pretty fucking good. The album’s turning point is “Sex and the 6Eight”, a great adrenaline rush of a song and a far more rewarding listen than bloated pish like “Bicycle Jam”. From then on there is a patch of great tunes, including “Patricroft Way” and the quite ridiculous Spinal Tap chorus of “Black Russian”. “…And the Lights Went Down” is probably the standout though, and really the only one where they concentrate long enough with any tangible result. That said its inclusion could just be to demonstrate that they could do “normal” songs if they felt inclined. Genesis did much the same with “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” I suppose. An interesting debut that if nothing else shows that Trojan Horse are nothing if not consistent in their inconsistency. 6/10
www.myspace.com/trojanhorseband

Rory Mac

 

Maybeshewill – I Was Here For a Moment, Then I Was Gone (Function)

Maybe there’s a bit of a clue in the fluid piano lines on the opening tracks of this album Whereas previously Maybeshewill’s sound relied more heavily on dynamics and, frankly, some gorgeously visceral guitar sounds, ‘I Was Here For a Moment...’ seems to concentrate a good deal more on melodic, even cinematic soundscapes. ‘Take This to Heart’ could quite easily slot into a Moby album, the rough edges have been shaved off, the crackles have been clean out and the rough bumps of percussive guitar have been streamlined down to a sleek machine of a third album.

While working their socks off touring for the past few years, Maybeshewill have clearly had time to revisit ideas and dynamics first tested on their debut album ‘Not For Want of Trying’ but then eschewed in the harder sophomore outing of ‘Sing the Word Hope in Four Part Harmony’. The result is an album which flows more like a soundtrack, a complete piece of work than the more staccato previous efforts. The pay off for this? Well there’s a couple of interludes where I have to admit to my attention waning (and I am a self confessed massive fan of the band). Having said that, although the record may float a little bit, when I’ve heard the tracks performed live they have positively seared as loud as anything off the previous albums. Furthermore, the way the album is structured means that there is a strong ending with ‘Relative Minors’ and ‘To the Skies from a Hillside’.

So a bit of a departure from the last two records, though not miles away from the same heavy, melodic sound which Maybeshewill have made their own. But a much more rounded record which might tantalise most fans while frustrating others. 7/10
www.maybshewill.net

SB

 

Wild Beasts – Smother

You will have heard about Wild Beasts. They are in your magazines right now. Some of the things being said about them are even true. The most startling thing I read was that this album doesn't sound like anyone. One magazine even went so far as to say that it was free from influences. I think that ranks as one of the most ridiculous things anyone reviewing anything has ever said. If it is true it suggests something blank and empty, surely, and if that is really what the reviewer thought then that may well mean that they are without any kind of experience, any kind of memory. Which is heartbreaking.

As far as I am concerned this is a beautiful album. I want to say little about it because I want you to discover it for yourself. I want you to tell someone else about it in your own words. Or better yet, find someone you like, maybe someone you are falling a little in love with and give them a copy of it. Put a note in it that suggests that if they might like you a little bit too you could listen to it together one night.

Just be sure to forgive them for the line about the tattoo.

And it sounds like all sorts of things.

Chirstopher Carney

 

Owen Franklin - 'Portrait Of The Young Man As An Artist'

I wasn't quite prepared for this one. Still a student, Owen Franklin has produced an 11 track album of wittily literate compositions some of which are very cleverly put together indeed. Quoting influences such as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel is only done to put critics off the trail of his actual inspirations, although me saying that I was reminded of Momus and the Beautiful South doesn't begin to tell half the story. Avoiding the archness of the former and the beery sentiment of the latter, Owen Franklin's songs are very nearly terrifying in their no holds barred dissections of relationships and the breackneck pace of his arrangements which can turn from boppy keyboard balladry into synth led prog frenzies in less than the time it takes me to type the word 'of'. Opener 'The Lovers And The Losers' was impressive enough but 'She Walks In Beauty' simply defies categorisation.

Owen Franklin looks, on the sepia tinted CD sleeve, like a self effacing and pleasant, perhaps even reserved sort of chap. Don't be fooled. 'I've spent all my money and I feel like a prick' he sings on 'Teetotal', while skilfully avoiding sounding like one. 'Halfway House To Hell', with its skewed, discordant intro, is a nightmarish sound collage that that leads into the cheery, folk tinged 'A Celebration Of Songwriting' and Franklin makes much of his youthful enthusiasms : 'my dad asked mw where I was going to run and I didn't have a clue' made me laugh out loud and not many lyrics ever did that to me. Owen Franklin is a sharply worded humorist, on top of his many other accomplishments, and the 'The Only Thing Left To Do' would probably make it past Simon Cowell into the X whatever semi finals, and is a properly AOR ballad which no one, even your shakily nervous grandmother, could ever find even remotely objectionable, although the rest of the album would rattle her hearing aid beyond repair.

In short, Owen Franklin is a spectacularly deranged genius, and I and many others will feel reassured that his talents are finding their release in music, instead of the scientific or medical professions: what his second album might sound like is a bigger guess than I'm qualified to make.
www.owenfranklinmusic.com

JG

 

Bix Medard - 'Take A Deep Breath' (Altair)

Robotic electro rhythms, slithering basslines, sultry female vocals, sample mixers and sonic collagists Bix Medard aim for loungebar territories previously inhabited by Portishead and Royksopp, with the Orb serving the beers and St Etienne in the cloakroom. It's a formula which Bix Medard know how to reproduce without ever quite repeating themselves, a place where just the sound of the song is what you are hearing and the idea is more important than the actual object which represents it. The mood, as it develops, is a dark and claustrophobic one. It's a very grey day in Liege, where the Belgian/Norwegian duo live and where the album was recorded.

Realising that they had perfected a sound which they could replicate infinitely in the studio and that would also work live without stretching the sample bank, Bix Medard are unrelentingly intense and 'Take A Deep Breath' is almost an extended 50 minute remix of just one of their songs, and there's very little variation in either the melodies or the rhythms of the eleven tracks. Around Track 7 I started to wish that things would lighten up a bit though, both in the instrumentation and the song tempos, which would bring an added depth and warmth to the starkly clinical sound which remains my enduring impression of the whole album. Bix Medard's voice is evocative and charming, a contrast to the grinding and occasionally sombre music: adherents of the TripHop world will find this a must-have addition to their collections.
www.myspace.com/bixmedard

JG

 

Sarah Jarosz - 'Follow Me Down' (Sugar Hill)

Someone needs to explain to me exactly what 'sophomore' means. I see this word in any number of US album press releases and reviews and I still can't decide if it means first or second album, or if it has another transatlantic definition which I am as yet unable to fathom. This album is Sarah Jarosz's sophomore release, says the press blurb accompanying 'Follow Me Down', and while I don't exactly find the phrase off putting, it does seem redolent of a type of album which will go on to sell in its millions regardless of my own 150 or so word seal of approval. Then I realised that I was, unconciously, displaying my own innate prejudices against the mainstream music industry, the very very big business where 20 year old Texan singer songwriter Sara Jarosz has already received several award nominations (including the Grammys) and revealing my own lack of sophistication and small town hick shoulder chips into the bargain.

So, I listened to 'Follow Me Down', noting Sarah's appreciation of Radiohead (whose song The Tourist she covers on this album), and that she has also performed with Mumford & Sons, and it really is a flawless, delicately performed and actually inspired collection of songs, and contains some of the most inventive banjo playing I've heard for a while. Sarah Jarosz is a more than worthy recipient of the accolades that she has already received, and the songs on 'Follow Me Down' are without exception quite lovely, really. Sarah Jarosz is working at the very top of her profession and is in all probability the new Alison Krauss. What do you mean, 'who's Alison Krauss ...?'.
www.sarahjarosz.com

JG

 

Underground Railroad - White Night Stand (One Little Indian Records)

The heart tells you bypass the whole cerebral cortex thing and 'feel' the music before your mind gets too involved. French band based in London (yes, you did hear that right!) Underground Railroad deliver a sharp visceral thrill to the dreamier recesses of your subconscious with their rush of guitars, crashing beats and crazed-sounding bass, and vocals struggling to be heard over the general melee ... it's this sense of urgency and hi-octane thrills which reminds us why we got into music in the first place, so nice to hear a band that really could care less!

But the head tells you different (and you read this in all the reviews): Underground Railroad's 3rd album White Night Stand clearly owes a lot to the sonics and experimentalism of Radiohead, Sonic Youth and bands of their ilk. Opener '8 Millimetres' does the dirty blues number well enough, but sounds not unlike 'I Might Be Wrong', has to be said, although more Kasabian on a beery summer afternoon with a pocket-sized history of rock'n'roll. Next up, 'We Were Slumbering' (think 'Knives Out' from the Amnesiac period), probably the album's most commercial offering, and very English-sounding. The 'homage' continues with 'Gingko Biloba' (has a song ever before been named after a memory-enhancing herb?), featured in the band's publicity, with In Rainbows' '15 Step' an obvious reference-point. In fact, the whole album is peppered with musical nods and winks. For 'Yellow Suit', read 'Sugar Kane' from The Youth's 1992 classic Dirty, and the vocal on 'Rude Awakening' also apes Kim Gordon and her band on 2002's Murray Street. But none of this matters much because White Night Stand is infused with invention and delivered with the sort of energy and vitality few bands could match. It appears the French are less inhibited about our music than we are: the head may say 'Nay', but the heart says 'Yay'!

The nice trilogy of songs dedicated to the work of surrealist film director David Lynch, 'The Black Widow', 'The Orchid's Curse' and 'Traces To Nowhere', named after episodes of 'Twin Peaks', give guitarist Marion Andrau's vocals a chance to flourish, more measured and thoughtful than all the punk attitude and Kathleen Hanna-esque post-punk feminism of the band's earlier recordings.

And their experimentalist approach pays off, too, with spangly spacerock 'Russian Doll' sounding like experimental Can, and 'Lucky Duck' a nod to Liars Sisterworld, both tracks a credit to the mixing skills of Paul Walton who was involved with Massive Attack's Mezzanine and Bjork's Verspertine. The electronic work is also redolent of another excellent album last year, Autolux's Transis Transit. At just under 10 minutes, 'Seagull Attack' seems to take on a life of its own, capturing the Hitchcockian paranoia of 'The Birds' with a screeching guitar phrasing matched together with Cale-esque avantgarde cello provided by sometime band member Anna Scott. The mood is speeded up Velvets 'Venus In Furs' repeated to crescendo with gothic horror choir thrown in for good effect. The drum battery brings the whole thing to an edgy intense climax ... turn up!!

So London's finest French emigrees return after their post-punk 2008 album Sticks and Stones didn't quite succeed in taking grunge back to Seattle. White Night Stand showcases their adopted city with a heady mix of tunes and experimental sonics. If it does sound "a bit like this ... and a bit like that", perhaps we'll forgive them in all the excitement ...

Matthew Haddrill

 

Memory Map - Holiday Band

Memory Map's Holiday Band is quite a breeze, guitar-based experimental rock combining the quirky aesthetic of Pavement, angular chord arrangements of 70s Tom Verlaine or Robert Quine, and the pop sensibilities of Talking Heads or XTC. In short, these guys are not without talent, but to be honest the warning sirens start sounding whenever I see the words 'indie' 'math' and 'rock' together! Happily, the Indiana band have sidestepped possible dangers, keeping the worst excesses of guitar noodling under control and pushing the boat out musically. They also know when enough's enough and throw in a bit of classic rock for good measure! So don't be put off with the odd rhythms, angular chords and dissonance, there are some good songs fighting to be heard on Holiday Band.

Album opener and featured track 'Serpent Wings' starts rather overblown and proggy, but speeds up and slows down as drummer Josh Morrow gives the song a real pounding. The band seem to catch themselves on a flight of fancy and rein the whole thing in at a sensible 2 minutes, which sets the tone nicely for the rest of the album. 'Sunburnt And Blown' is a rollicking good ride, too, Morrow and the bass player tightly-packing the rhythm of the song. But there are frequent chops and changes on Holiday Band and the devil's really in the detail. 'Housesitting', for example, underscores the holiday theme and sounds like XTC's 'Peter Pumpkinhead' of all things:

"House sit on the weekend, the beach house
you don't quite fit but you're not sure how
memory maps and weakened bones
when there's sound in the low-cut dawn"

Catch your breath again as 'Willing Spirits' is bedroom Bach with all its finger-picking intricacies, and the intro to 'Hibernation' has 2 lead guitars playing independently but somehow coming together, like Television did on songs like 'Venus' or 'Friction' from the classic Marquee Moon album, nice trick if you can pull it off. The mawkish Andy Partridge-style wailing isn't everybody's cup of tea though, so not a bad idea to share the vocal duties out (the singer on album closer 'Protection Clause' is much easier on the ear). The guitars are dualing again on 'Stowaway', shades of Stuart Adamson's bagpipes-sounding axe work for Skids in the late-70s, and in a late bid for glory 'Sew It Up' contains elements of surf rock and even country, with a great fuzzy guitar outro. There's a lot to admire on Holiday Band, but also plenty of fun and games, my worst fears of over-indulgent prog band disappearing up their own backsides therefore not realized. In fact, they've gone and saved the best to last, as 'Protection Clause' starts off sounding like Neil Young, and again re-awakens the Marquee Moon spirit as the band totally rock out. One wonders what the great man would make of it all, probably he'd modestly move aside and let the youngsters get on with it.

"Separate intent and acting on
you can't jump ship till the ship is gone
need someone to get you on your way
you waited long enough to make the call
but the feeling of suspense isn't natural
without someone to get you on your way

So let's be honest come and see me
a lesson i've learned is "don't wait"
if afterwards it seems it just wasn't meant to be
at least we weren't stuck standing in the rain"

So Memory Map's Holiday Band makes you sit up and listen, showcasing lots of talent but not wasting time and effort on overblown prog rock. Math Rock with a human face: 'Repeat To Play'!
http://memorymap.bandcamp.com/

 

The Savage Nomads - 'Coloured Clutter' (Alaska Sounds)

Mick Jones likes The Savage Nomads. Yes, that Mick Jones, Clash guitarist, B.A.D. sound collagist, Libertines producer. They've also gained a notable amount of favourable press from the Independent and Music Week, amongst others. So, these aren't quite your average garage band, and while fusing punk, urban and other influences into a seamless hybrid of powerhouse beats and lyrical adroitness always results in something at least listenable, there's a depth and range across the Nomad's 13 track debut that identifies them as talents worthy of the attention they've already received.

What makes 'Coloured Clutter' notable is the bands depth of songwriting, and some artfully constructed production which complements the occasional twists and bursts of the Nomads songs. They aren't merely rehashing the beats, or just thrashing it out in the studio - the songs of the Savage Nomads succesfully merge guitar led prog epic stylings with a harder edged angular style that eventualy sounds very little like either Hard Fi or even Coldplay, both of whom the Nomads make notable stylistics nods to. Add to that their hip hop sensibility and also the range and depth of their own songwriting, and the Savage Nomads are a band making more than just the right noises, a lot more.
www.myspace.com/thesavagenomads

JG

 

Shaneolinski - 'Getting Closer (retainingthesoulbynumbers)' (Tontena Music)

Shaneowlinski is a leading figure in Norwich's ever developing lo-fi scene, and his latest (I doubt it's his first) release is a chaotic, reverberating and lyrically bewildering collection of partially dissected melodies and flickeringly brittle instrumentation. In between cranking out punky guitar riffs and snorting helium, Shaneowlinski rattles a tune out of just about anything metallic he can get his hands on - pipes, bottles, bicycles, harpsichords, zithers - and very often forgets or improvises the rhythms and perhaps everything else he's doing.

Now it goes without saying that Shaneowlinski is a genius, a brilliant maverick creating ever more inventive and surreal music, fusing elements of performance art and poetry into his already wittily acerbic songwriting, taking inspiration from the most ordinary situations and objects and providing us with a vision of a world teetering on the brink of sanity, where the xylophone is the ultimate tech gadget and the Fall are on Radio 1 every day. It's a vision which not everyone will share, but if Shaneowlinski wanted to make a less demanding, more traditional folk based album, or a blisteringly overdriven metal one, then he'd probably do that with at least as much elan and brio as he's made 'Getting Closer' with. At 17 tracks it's only slightly overlong, and the relentlessly gleeful tone will make you want to keep playing it. No swear words either, and only one song about animals: recommended.
www.tontenamusic.com

JG

 

Something Beginning With L - 'Beautiful Ground' (Armellodie)

Every now and again I get an album that I don't want to write about. Not because it's bad, or unlistenable, or dull, but because it's so gloriously fantastic that it strikes me dumb with awe and wonder, and writing about it would only cheapen the overwhelming, mesmeric experience of listening to it - and perhaps also because it's mine and you're not getting any of it, an album that I want to worship in a darkened room, at night when all the neighbours are asleep and when the delicacy and phrasing, the sudden turns into blistering guitar reverence and the fantastically realised vocal harmonies take on real life of their own, when a collection of songs is suddenly far more than just that, when it's a living, breathing organism posessed of a furious existence that even its creators never foresaw.

'Beautiful Ground' very nearly had that effect upon me. Something Beginning With L merge folksy vocal harmonics and edgy post-grunge guitar noise with a degree of skill that even they must've felt mildly taken aback by, when listening to what they'd recorded. It is a very finely tuned and quite remarkably lush, subtly paced and gently resonant sound that Something Beginning With L are making. The vocal harmonies are flawless, the band sound is cleverly balanced between the post Cobain guitar dynamics and the choral styling of the records softer moments, like Mystere Des Voix Bulgare jamming with Dinosaur Jr in the grounds of a massive gothic chateau on a twilit midsummer evening. Stunning, really, few bands set their sights this high nowadays and fewer yet make it work. Are we worthy?
www.armellodie.com

JG