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albums - july 2011


   
 

Monsters Build Mean Robots – WeShouldHaveDestroyedOurGeneralsNot TheirEnemies (Nive Weather For Airstrikes)

Originally formed as a side project for members of Last Days of Lorca and Court of Hidden Faces, Monsters Build Mean Robots have steadily been building a reputation as musical innovators with regular praise showered upon them from a diverse range of critics over the previous couple of years.

Their sound, a joyous call to arms, marries the rich and beautiful instrumentation of Sigur Ros, the intricate arrangements and melodies of Mew with the rabble-rousing Pied Piper antics of Arcade Fire at their finest. The sweeping and soaring vocal performance on ‘Lament 77 (We Will Follow)’ is one of many stand-out moments that certainly shouldn’t be dubbed with a simple post-rock tag. Eclipsing records by many of their aforementioned contemporaries, this is a wonderfully complete album which encompasses all types of beautiful sounds. Delivering fully on the great promise they have shown, this is an excellent album and will hopefully herald a barrage of similarly great reviews. 9/10

Mark Whiffin

 

The Lovely Savalas – Pornocracy (Above Ground Records)

Featuring guest appearances from Nick Oliveri, Martyn Lenoble (Porno For Pyros) and Scott McCloud (Girls Against Boys), Pornocracy is the latest offering from Italy’s The Lovely Savalas.

To describe the majority of this album as radio-friendly would be a huge understatement. Instantly reminding of Queens Of The Stone Age’s more polished moments there is also certainly a strong whiff of Feeder’s light weight rock-pop present throughout. ‘Trust No One’ must surely be a strong contender for most grating song released this year, seemingly combining the aforementioned rock pop with what resembles a Euro-pop-hell backing style track.

Considering the calibre of the featured guest musicians this is not only a very surprisingly safe release style-wise, but also a severely disappointing one, destined for bargain basements. It is very hard to imagine this release making any type of impact in rock circles and previously read comparisons to At The Drive-In are laughable. 4/10

Mark Whiffin

 

The Doomed Bird of Providence – Will Ever Pray (Front and Follow)

With the objective of exploring early Australian history by“…darkly probing its more abject and harrowing aspects…” ‘Will Ever Pray’ is a unique and ambitious recording. However its uniqueness lies not only in its subject matter but also in its presentation. At times the fascinating stories recounted are hard to decipher due to the dialogue appearing to belong to a heavily intoxicated Rolf Harris backed by the Australian Wurzels. Its most successful movements are without doubt the instrumental passages which are particularly haunting and evocative. Once contemplated, it is hard to move away from the comparison of a Levellers’ single being played at 16 2/3 rpm instead of 45rpm. 6/10

Mark Whiffin

 

The Victorian English Gentlemans Club – Bag of Meat (This is Fake DIY)

I’ve always had an infinity with The VEGC ever since seeing them play at the Cockpit in Leeds a few years ago – everything went wrong with their set but they gamely battled on and even managed to merrily man their merch store afterwards rather than sulk in the shadows. With ‘Bag of Meat’, their third album, it’s great to see that they are still not making things easy for themselves, or for anyone else listening for that matter.

Start at the start, take the album opener and title track. Starting off as a Numan-esque glam-stomp beat which most people could pretty well get their head around, this familiar and welcoming territory is rapidly subverted as the boy-girl vocals gently unravel and give way into the excellent if unhinged single ‘A Conversation’. This theme of taking a familiar hook or a style of music and then mashing it up before regurgitating with extreme intent surfaces time and again on the album. On the surface for the casual listener all you would hear is quite a lot of loud shouty vocals and noisy guitar and drums. In fairness, there is quite a lot of that. But the devil in the detail, the trick the band manage to pull off time and again, is maintaining a thread of something poppy to cling on to so the whole song doesn’t just sound like an unpleasant racket. Whether it’s bookending ‘I Lost My Face in a Fast Car Race’ with some tribal chants or introducing some eerie B-movie effects into the otherwise pleasant (if slightly off-kilter) ‘Pistol Whipped’ The VEGC have an amazing gift of imagination and execution. Frankly I’m not surprised that their live show could go a bit awry as they seldom sound compus mentis even on their recordings.

I can’t praise the band highly enough for treading the path least followed. The last time they played in Leeds it was in little more than a city centre bar, not even the grotty squalor of the Cockpit – clearly widespread commercial appeal is neither a target nor forthcoming. But if you want to do yourself a favour then you could do a lot worse than seek out this gutsy, quirky little three-piece from Cardiff, masters of their very own idiosyncratic brand of 3 minute pop. 9/10
www.thevictorianenglishgentlansclub.co.uk

SB


 

Sandy Denny - The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (deluxe edition, 2011)

Where to start with Sandy Denny, whose music and influence in the late 60s and 70s laid the foundations for what we know today as 'British Folk Rock'? Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch and many others were there from the beginning when the British folkies followed Sir Bob's example and plugged in their guitars, but when Denny joined Fairport Convention in the late sixties, the promising West Coast covers band (with secret weapon Richard Thompson!) were transformed. Their music became infused with traditional British folk, American blues and many other influences, and the recordings in the period 1968-1969 with legendary producer Joe Boyd spawned 3 stunning albums, What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and the classic Liege & Lief. In the 70s she continued to record both with her musician husband Trevor Lucas and the band Fotheringay, and then later as a solo artist, although ironically she will be most familiar in the public consciousness as the beautiful siren-like female singer on Led Zeppelin's 'Battle Of Evermore' recorded in 1971. Denny had a troubled life (almost certainly the result of an undiagnosed medical condition that meant she got very drunk very quickly on very little!), but in her music she brought an instinctual and sympathetic rendition to folk standards, and a purity of vocal with at times aching fragility and melancholy. Her songs were about subjects like the sea, nature and ... death, of course (that old chestnut!), often with leanings towards the mythical and historical. Take a song like 'John The Gun', for example, which contains the sort of doomladen lyrics that Ozzie Osbourne and Black Sabbath would die for:

"Put away your guns of steel,
Death comes too soon for all.
Your Master He may need you soon,
And you must heed His call.
''I am the master of the games
That you will hardly ever play,
So I will teach your sons.
And if they should die
Before the evening of their span of days,
Why, then they will die young.''

For folkies she was the 'real deal', which is probably why her tragic death in1978 at the age of only 31 inspired so much devotion and many have jumped to protect the musical legacy of an artist who inspired successive generations of songwriters. In recording terms it has meant a steady stream of re-issues, outtakes, demos, live and other rare recordings. As a solo artist Denny released 4 official albums between 1971 and 1978, and the first of these may be a good place to start for the uninitiated. The 2011 'Deluxe' edition of The North Star Grassman And The Ravens serves up 'alternate' versions of songs as well as the originals, probably only for the diehard completist, but it gives us a little of where she's been and a little of where she's going ... and she is re-joined by Fairport guitarist Richard Thompson who plays on most of the album (Thompson recently received the OBE in the Queen's Honours List, by the way!).

'Late November', 'John The Gun' and 'Next Time Around' sound like classic folk rock to me (the first 2 reworkings of earlier Fotheringay songs, the 3rd dedicated to American folk singer Jackson C. Frank), and there are some interesting musical stop-off points on this album, for example a nice ballad with Ian Matthews, the original Fairport singer, 'If You Saw Through My Eyes'. The album has some lighter moments, too. 'Down In The Flood', a Bob Dylan song, is almost ragtime boogie with backing vocal provided by Thompson. 'The Optimist' sounds spritely and gives Denny's voice a chance to shine, with nice chug guitar from yer man Thompson again! Classic rocker 'Let's Jump The Broomstick' was originally a Brenda Lee composition, and there's a novel line in marriage proposals ("C'mon little baby let's jump the broomstick ...C'mon let's tie the knot"). That's not to say The North Star Grassman is light on original material, inevitably with songs about the sea something of a Denny speciality. On 'The Sea Captain' she's a soft-voiced balladeer, and the title track uses the sea and sailing to evoke memories of loss.

Sandy Denny gave a lot in a short time, as Dave Swarbrick, Fairport's fiddle player, commented in the documentary series 'Under Review' (well worth a look on YouTube, very interesting chronicle of the artist and times): "music had already had a lot from Sandy, and she gave everything to music, she gave her life!" Denny blazed a trail and her real legacy may actually be the rich musical succession of female singer-songwriters that we have in this country. Kate Bush has famously cited her as an influence, of course, but one also thinks of other exciting female artists like Alison Goldfrapp, Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) and Florence Welch, and more recently Laura Marling and the brilliant debut by The Smoke Fairies last year. The North Star Grassman And The Ravens is 40 years old this year ... who knows where the time goes, Sandy?
http://www.sandydennyofficial.com/

Matthew Haddrill

 

Thomas Dybdahl - Songs

Opening track 'From Grace', is a gently wistful melody, its guitars slide softly across its undulatingly soporific imagery like seabirds trailing summer air currents, like raindrops slipping down my neck on a June evening. Nice. Next track 'A Love Story' has a similar softly reflective vibe, and uses an entirely identical tune. Ideas, that's what Thomas Dybdahl appears to lack, and all the AOR guitar slush in his collection of Carpenters albums cannot hide the fact. I click on a track or two more. 'That Great October Sound' is a title that evokes anthemic rock greatness, but right from the tinkly percussive intro it appears that Thomas Dybdahl's notion of memorable autumn noises is that of soggy leaves falling, that and a toneless dinner gong which I think I wish to borrow, if only to inform Thomas that it is indeed dinnertime, and can he please stop making little tinkly noises for a while? I tap the gong in vain: 'Pale Green Eyes' has him attempting loudness a la Coldplay, with what I hope are 'ironic' keyboards, and I begin to suspect that I am in the presence of a master satirist, one part Bix Beiderbeck and the other James Blunt after consuming almost a whole bottle of Kir. Final track 'Dice' has a female vocal, no gongs or xylophones, and is less than two minutes long.

If you ever wanted to hear songs which make the music of Richard and Karen Carpenter sound like their much less twiddly and humorously abrasive mid 70s contemporaries The Tubes then this, I fear, is indeed that album. Gong!

JG

 

Gagarin - Biophilia

Bit of a pedigree, our Yuri. Graham Dowdall was a member of Mancunian agit funk pioneers Ludus, worked with Nico and John Cale, and Per Ubu, and spent much of the 90s following the agaric trail through Siberia, Tokyo, and of course New York. With a background such as this, he couldn't just call himself 'Graham', that wouldn't do, so he's taken his pseudonym from the name of the Russian cosmonaut who was the first man to travel in space, although the first mammal in space was actually a dog (also Russian) called Laika. We don't all know our late 50s space race history nowadays, so Gagarin is perhaps providing us with an educational service, before we've even clicked the white triangle on his Soundcloud page. And the album title provoked some thought from me, until I realised I'd misread it. I read the title as 'Biblophilia' (fear of books?) and that had me recalling 60s sci-fi noir masterpiece Farenheit 451, and anticipating some dramatic tales of interplanetary intrigue, but 'Biophilia' probably means 'fear of just about everything, including decent tunes'. Must get the peepers checked sometime.

Everyone knows what gloomy TripHop is, and opener 'Pripyat' would make for the perfect soundtrack to a documentary about underground caves and lakes, complete with a spectacular wibbling moment for when the cavers find a multicoloured stalactite. And that's pretty much it with' Biophilia' : a collection of squirbling, wirbling, and ambient blooping a go go. I'd like to have heard an album that actually referenced and reconfigured some if not all of Graham Dowdall's previous bands and collaborations, but for the moment it's into my ever expanding 'Eno Acolytes Who Need To Listen To Roxy A Lot More Often' file for this less than inspired or even listenable biohazard.

JG

 
 

Goodluck Jonathan – This Is Our Way Out (Something Nothing Records)

‘This Is Our Way Out’ is the debut album from Brighton five piece Goodluck Jonathan. It is apparently their “…story told over a series of three EPs…”

The majority of songs feel purposeful and focused, only once straying past the three minute mark. Guitars chug, vocals are spoken regularly and chorus’ repeat infectiously. While there are many reminders of British bands such as Your Code Name Is: Milo and The Cooper Temple Clause there is also an American feel, one that reminds of current alternative bands such as And You Will Know Us By Our Trail Of Dead. Unfortunately, amongst the eleven tracks here are some that could be described as filler but these sit alongside others that show potential. Not afraid to rock out at times it is easy to imagine that Goodluck Jonathan are a formidable live force and ‘This Is Our Way Out’ could possibly be a step onto greater achievements.

Mark Whiffin

 

Herman Dune – Strange Moosic

Before I heard this I knew few things about Herman Dune. I knew that Jeffrey Lewis liked them better with both brothers in the band and I knew that one of them designed a t shirt for The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. I also knew that a lot of my friends like them an awful lot.
I thought it about time I had a go on them.

I was in a foul mood when I started listening to this album, the kind that resolutely refused to shift. I'm not saying Herman Dune cheered me up, they didn't, but I could appreciate how good natured the songs, and Herman Dune were. Sometimes music gives you a respite from the things that you would do to yourself. It is something to recommend the whole endeavour, not just this album.

I have no frame of reference for Herman Dune, so it may be that they are entirely spectacular and this is their worst album. I doubt it. It may be that they are normally speed metal and this almost twee indie-folk is a massive departure. I doubt it. I would imagine they wouldn't have always had this Mercury Rev vibe going on though. But I'm not sure why I would say that about things I haven't heard.

Ah Hears Strange Music is wonderful. Lay You Head On My Chest is great to the extent that it should be released, and upon release many people would buy it and tell their friends about how they were cheered up. I hope they do, it would make up for my impenetrable sadness . I wish I could take part more in the happy moments and I'm glad that there aren't any moments of gloom to deal with. I like jangle and harmonies. I would surmise that the remaining brother likes a more traditional approach and perhaps the brother Jeffrey misses brought a different more experimental angle. Who knows? You, if you like Herman Dune. I like this album. It is pretty and the harmonies brighten things considerably. It is very hard to write music that sounds easy going, that breezes past you and isn't insignificant. Herman Dune have sent out a whole album. If I wasn't so twisted inside, I'd probably listen to it all summer.

A lovely collection of interesting arty-pop. I doubt Herman Dune fans would find themselves disappointed. People stumbling across them will stumble all over their back catalogue. Hopefully in an endearing manner akin to this album. In case I have left anyone confused, this album is really great. Get it.

Christopher Carney

 

Japanese Fighting Fish - Just Before We Go Mad (Vandal)

A fusion of Cuban funk and gritty rock meet seamlessly in a strange ten tracks of oddness and starter ‘Johnny Sideways’ is a peculiar beginning, but sets a scene for the union of musical tastes found layered throughout the record. An encompassing voice commands and directs “Ladies and Gentlemen” to “gather around” and all is clear that this will be a real feast of fanatical senselessness.

Reminiscent of System of A Down in places with the eccentric vocal patterns and perplexing lyrics, teamed with some brilliantly snaky bass lines as seen in ‘Sick Of Waiting’ before it bursts into a Muse-esque delight of spiralling ethereal vocals, cymbal crashes and a steady but deliciously heavy riff. ‘Boots’ is oh-so-Queens of the Stone Age but that is by no means a bad thing as we twist and turn through a stop start rollercoaster of vocal strangeness, bouncing drum beats and heavy riffs. As well as the craziness threre is real musical dexterity as is seen through the harmonies and ability to switch impeccably through different dynamics and atmospheres in songs such as ‘Blue Eyes’.

A different sound and definitely one that grows on the listener as it draws many clever influences, this is a true flying start.

Eloise Quince

 

Faded Circus - Faded Circus (Politely Fighting)

Starting off an album with the song ‘Bumblebee Lament’, you know you are onto a winner. Beautifully gentle and gorgeously peaceful, but rhythmically pleasing too, a tone is set for this small acoustic miracle.

A more Asian sound of ‘Solace’ fills the soul as much as the ears, using light percussive sounds. The entire album was recorded in Jones’ home using a reel to reel tape recorder which gives a stunning vintage, almost timeless sound. The echoes in tunes such as ‘Making Lists’ resonate magnificently with the other down-to-earth harmonies and a soft minimal approach to musicianship, but a sense of pace is built up with ‘A Layman’s Wish’ and ‘The Winner’s Way‘, which show Jones’ versatility in the acoustic genre, begging of gentler Kid Harpoon tracks.

Arranged wonderfully as well as played beautifully, each song has a retainable familiarity, but also a simple originality that is enough to set each apart; an astonishing feat for eccentrically fantastic man.

Eloise Quince

 

Innerpartysystem - Never Be Content (Red Bull Records)

Electronic and ecstatic are the best two words for these six songs of blistering feel-good dance euphoria.

‘And Together’ are definite crowd pleasers with a deep bass line and a choral countdown to an explosive electronic finale. European electronica is a definite influence on the screechingly good ‘Money Makes The World Go Round’ that jostles and detonates spectacularly. Then again, European influences can be seen splattered across the whole album as well as dirty dubstep and classic dance tastes. ‘American Trash’ is a refreshingly satirical tune that has far too much brain to ever make it mainstream, but will undoubtedly be appreciated by forward thinking underground maestro DJ’s. However, ‘Out Of Touch’ and ‘Squid’ are still typical dance songs whichever way they are dressed up – simple beats and lyrics win mainstream fans but provide little to critically enjoy.

Invigoratingly different to what is usually expected of the electro genre, but still retaining a little of the original sell-out techniques used by all, maybe a real smashing of the mould will retain INNERPARTYSYSTEM the critical acclaim they have the potential of reaching.

Eloise Quince

 

The Pigeon Detectives - Up, Guards and At ‘Em (Dance To The Radio)

With a typical indie band swagger, another album is released for the mainstream pile up of commercialism. The same themes of love, loss and women in general are seen once again, worn out and worn down with a lyrical dexterity that matches that of McFly and is repetitive to the point of complete and utter boredom.

Having said that, there are some cracking riffs to be found if you have the patience to listen like in ‘She Wants Me’ and ‘Go At It Completely’ to close the droning hum of a song. The pounding drum beats of ‘What Can I Say?’ aren’t bad either, but just like everything else they eventually get incredibly tedious.

We should be dawning a new musical generation with the economic crisis and the dislike of the government we technically didn’t elect, but all we can export from our studios and musicians across England is the same melancholy, expectable drones. Sorry Pigeon Detectives, I just cannot join your bandwagon.

Eloise Quince

 

IS TROPICAL - Native To (Kitsune/Cooperative Music)

Stirrings have told me that this album is not all it was set out to be after a NME Radar article, publicity and numerous support slots with indie stalwarts such as the Mystery Jets. But sod those stirrings, this has exceeded expectation altogether.

Lauching straight into the huge ‘South Pacific’ huge desert electronia soundscapes are filled which continues as we sweep into the fantastic ‘Lies’ that flows seamlessly into the lyrical monsoon of ‘What???’ as choral vocals sweep over you and infiltrate the mind with a throbbing beat and euphoric synths. The more energetic pop tunes come in the form of ‘Clouds’ and ‘Land of the Nod’ which both provide disgracefully catchy melodies teamed with soaring, gentle vocals that transport you to another world of dream pop wonder.

What is really great though, is to see the crowd-pleasers and demos transformed into a new depth of sound and timbre, using greater dynamic flexibility to create an experience, and this is most evident with ‘Seasick Mutiny’ that has developed from a dance tune to a real late-night firecracker of noise with new intensity from the overlapping melodies, distortion and cymbal crashes and a newly invigorated shout of ‘Heave ho!’. What is also so accomplished about this record is the ability to dive from a slower, guitar driven track and merge it into a heavy dance floor crusher as we follow the musical journey of the record. Either that or it’s all just a bit of a mess, but a stylish one at that.

However, in the middle of the album we have a slight lag of pace, almost as if the songs were just created to fill some sort of middle-of-the-album-oh-christ-we-need-a-song void. ‘Oranges’ and ‘Berlin’ aren’t dramatic, dazzling whirlwinds of a new couture of electronic resonance, but they will satisfy the masses, if not the critics.

Really though, ‘Zombies’ is the show-stealing piece of genius here. Reminiscent of ‘When O’ When’, it’s unrefined distortion and muffled vocals set against a back-drop of thumping bass lines and the occasional torrential downpour of shiny guitar riffs making a tune and a half.

Raw and unadulterated dream electro-pop, this is a stunner of a record.

Eloise Quince

 

The Ladybug Transistor - 'Clutching Stems' (Fortuna Pop)

On a snow covered beach, a man and a woman are holding a large red flag that's fluttering in the winter breeze. The Ladybug Transistor then, a male/female duo making glacial, ethereal electronic music inspired by Add N To X and probably Ladytron? I turn over the sleeve. No they aren't. The Ladybug Transistor look like QOTSA collecting their pension books. One of them is even wearing a cardigan. Scary.

Wait a minute. The Ladybug Transistor are Gary Olson, whose project it has been since the mid 90s, everyone else on the sleeve is also a member and Gary Olson does what he likes with his sleeve art. To the music then : the title track and opener didn't exactly catch my attention, pleasant enough but it needs that keyboard riff to really bring some depth to the song. Listening on, 'Ignore The Bell' is the song that really made me decide to take The Ladybugs seriously as a band and Gary Olson a little more seriously as a songwriter. It just sounds a more measured, intricately structured and countryfied song than one or two of its predecessors, even when in its final moments the song starts to sound a lot like something from Fleetwood Mac's epochal 'Rumours' album, one band whom I never switch off when they appear on whatever radio station I'm listening to, although I've forgotten why I've always (not) done this. 'Oh Christina' is a real classy piece of AOR balladry though, mid period Lou Reed swapping riffs with a saturnine Billy Joel in some afterhours barroom.

There are a few neat tricks around the songs on 'Clutching Stems', the kind of instrumental backing that I need to say a few of Gary Olson's songs actually require. It's radio friendly and skilfully arranged, but lacks the songwriting imagination, the sense of drama that would really propel the album into the hearts of a million CD buyers, as well as get better reviews from writers like me who've heard medium strength MOR like this well over a million times already.
http://www.theladybugtransistor.com

JG

 

Repo Men - 'Occasional Sensations' (Phantom Power)

I suppose you actually need to come from Sheffield to really know much about the Repo Men. Since 2000, they've released a slew of Eps and one full album, and this retrospective recovers some of the highlights of their guitar choons over the preceding decade. A word I find myself using more of recently when writing about bands recently is Powerpop, a phrase that first appeard in the late 70s to describe what was a reanimated guitar pop scene, which included any number of chart hopefuls such as The Vapors, Tours, Starjets, The Records - the opening tracks on 'Occasional Sensations' definitely had me recalling some classic three chord moments.

Repo Men also take an acknowledged cue from The Go-Betweens, whose literate adult balladry provides the backdrop for some smartly crafted songs from the Repo Men - 'Lauren Bacall' and 'The Finest Line' are a clear indicator of what the band had up their sleeves in 2002. They then turn in the utterly punked 'Love Me' which while it isn't the same song the Cramps once made much of, is verging on quite similar territories. So if nothing else, the Repo Men were and probably are a versatile collection of song writers and musicians. Perhaps they never quite got past the support band level but there are tens of thousands of similar bands whose music has had less than the reception it might've deserved over the years, and Repo Men are in some exalted company as far as that goes.
http://www.myspace.com/repomenuk

JG

 

North Sea Radio Orchestra - 'I A Moon' (Household Mark)

Well, I've seen some glowing press releases in my time, but North Sea Radio Orchestra take the entire box of shortbread with their PR introduction, including as it does quotes from Q, the Guardian, the daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Clash magazine, Yorkshire Evening Post ... what can this humble fanzine scribe hope to add to the plaudits already bestowed upon a group of musicians whom he feels almost mildly embarrased about never having heard previously? Intimidated is too strong a word for it, but there's nothing quite like gilding the lily as much as you can in the PR world, and think twice about slagging this off is the message from NSRO's management. Onto the stereo it goes ...

Well, there's very little to find objectionable here, although exactly why NSRO receive such overwhelmingly enthusiastic accoldes from some highly regarded publications and critics is very, very slightly baffling. The rhythms are quirky without falling into eccentricity, the woodwind provides a spicily baroque touch to some sprightly folk based tunes and Craig Fortnam is, as his publicity suggests, a very real talent as a composer, musician and importantly, arranger. It sort of slides in and out of my hearing though, as if it were written purely for effect and the PR is more important than the music, which is wrong, really. So I wind up feeling more critical than I ought to about some skilfully handled modern composition, and Craig Fortnam reads this and wonders if I've got two heads or something. Actually it's an alright sort of album, and a lot of quite influential people who know what they're talking about already like it. It isn't quite the Go-Between's 'Tallulah' though.
http://www.nsro.co.uk/

JG

 

Pulco - 'Small Thoughts' (Folkwit)

'goin' loco, down in ..' oh, sorry, I started getting enthusiastic about 'Small Thoughts' as soon as I saw the bands name, wirt large in a lettering that I last saw used by Pulp, on the cover of their 'Different Class' album. First impressions count for something with me and have always done, and Pulco are making some interesting noises even before I've started listening to their album. Correction, is - Pulco are Ashley Cooke, a 4 track veteran of tours with SFAs, Sebadoah and has even worked alongside John Cale. And I've heard him before, it is unmistakable, and it's also around 8 years ago, probably on Peel - at any rate 2nd track 'Place Lid On Me' is a sound and vocal I recognise, and in a good way.

'Oxbow Lake' is guitar and tinny drum machine boosted with some with some smartly handled backing vocals and keyboard interjections, and the sound of a cat complaining about its sudden introduction to a microphone. Lyrical and funny, and declaiming his own spoken words with as much inspiration as he brings to a ballad such as 'Machines/Mind', the beachside oddness of 'Thumb Piano For Jad Fair', the thoughtful refelction of 'Old Stories', the techno excesses of 'Travel Lodge Mirror', and final track 'Mexican Mods And Mexican Rockers' is a gleeful deconstruction of the album, the band ethos, and is very amusing indeed. There's more than comedy to the 17 tracks on 'Small Thoughts' though, and anyone listening to it will indeed find it a memorable experience, on a par with even Pulp? They might.
http://folkwit.com/artists/pulco

JG

 

Grey Reverend - Of The Days (Motion Audio)

Having previously toured and performed with The Cinematic Orchestra, L. D. Brown now releases his first album under the Grey Reverend guise. ‘Of The Days’ beautifully showcases Brown’s vocals in all their glory; warm and rich throughout. Backed predominantly by a restrained acoustic guitar, the results are captivating as well as comforting. The one track pace of the album simply strengthens its feel, creating a bewitching, often haunting, atmosphere. The reflective but forward thinking lyrics are performed in what can be described as an almost spoken style. Each song is a delicate cocoon, fragile and exposed, before revealing its beauty through repeated listens. This is one of those albums that is perfect for a Sunday morning or for those late nights in. In summary, ‘Of The Days’ is a very pleasing release and hopefully its successor will not also be four years in the making. 8/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Strawhouses – These Are The Willing (Self Release)

First effort from Liverpool four-piece, available as a physical order only from their website. Four years in the making, this record suffers slightly from the temptation of squeezing four years worth of songs onto it. It’s also furiously earnest stuff this, perhaps a touch too earnest in places. We have righteous indignation to kick things off in the shape of opener “Not In My Name” and the band struggle initially to stop themselves falling down a U2-shaped lyrical hole of bombast. “And I met you in the corner/we discussed politics/and God’s desperate children” in “These are the Willing” makes front man Paul Donnelly veer dangerously into Bono/Sixth form poetry territory. Fortunately the two songs in question appear together early on. And from “The Way of the World” till its finish, this is a genuinely good record, with “Trainwreck”, “Malaise” and particularly the beautiful deadpan closer “DDay”, standing out.

While the press release makes clumsy allusions to Interpol meeting Jeff Buckley in a darkened alley, the reality looks to homeward shores for inspiration. This is revisionist British guitar music that conveniently ignores The Wombats/Pidgeon Detectives/Razorlights of this world that have given the genre such a bad name over the last few years. Instead, a finger could squarely pointed in the direction of Richard Hawley’s one-time employers, long-lost Sheffield Brit-pop also-rans Longpigs – their influence is all over this record but nowhere more so than on “Sunlight”. And Donnelly’s voice cruises effortlessly in territory that’s somewhere between that band’s Crispin Hunt and Suede’s Brett Anderson (especially on “The Way of the World”).

All in all, a pleasant surprise, and a timely reminder too that not all indie is of the landfill variety. 8/10
www.myspace.com/strawhouses

Rory Mac

 

Scumbag Philospher – It Means Nothing So It Means Nothing (Words on Music)

Debut album from Situationist Pranksters. They are from Norfolk, apparently.

How this lot got their tour endorsed by the Arts Council, I’ll never know as this record is neither subversive, nor original, nor all that arty really. Maybe they are merely well connected. Anyway, what have we got? Ah, right; ploddingly simple drums, “angular” guitars, and deadpan vocal delivery. So, the results of a bunch of people sitting around a table imagining what a band that labelling itself “Avant-Garde” or “Arty” would sound like then. It all comes across a bit hackneyed. One song title briefly raises a smile (“God is Dead So I Listen to Radiohead”), and “Isolation” is a half decent song, but I can only hope they are better live as the rest of the album is monochromatically dull. Fucking Roxy Music are more arty than this lot ever could be.

The lyrics, continuing the theme of the Avant Rock focus group contain run of the mill genre-correct themes; Social Networking, Celebrity, blah blah blah. “I find it comforting to know how many strokes make up each number on a digital clock face” on “I Like Sums” pretty much sums up an almost self-congratulatory sense of smugness that anybody that prints the entire album’s lyrics on the inner sleeve would display.

I have to say that the most interesting thing about this band is that they’re from Norfolk. Stephen Fry’s from Norfolk you know. An unimpressed 1.5/10

Rory Mac

 

Cats and Cats and Cats – Motherwhale (Function)

Second album from the London four-piece. While land-fill indie is rightly to be castigated, there really is however nothing worse than anthemic, folk inspired pop. These are words that should strike fear into the hearts of the populace, and fox-hunters who have lain idle since the hunting ban came into force in 2004 should be re-employed to track anyone down who even thinks this sort of music is a good idea.

To re-inforce the folk credentials, they employ traditional weapons such as the accordion. This is an instrument that has only ever successfully used twice in the history of recorded music – “Peek-a-Boo” by Souixie and the Banshees, and the theme tune for Bergerac. Its employment on “The Projectionist” only serves to reinforce that notion. They also use the dreaded xylophone (“For the Love of Mechanical Bears”; it also features the same fucking accordion). This instrument has to date NEVER been used in music in any way that gives enjoyment. Finally, we have the presence of the obligatory fiddle. Not a good start. This record succeeds (presumably unintentionally) in making these instruments even less appealing than they previously were.

Cats sound is essentially a very “now” twee-pop that has attempted to make itself interesting with some post-rock drums with shifting time signatures and stop-start bits. Really though, its just more bad knitwear, rolled up chinos and scruffy boatshoes, topped off with RayBan Wayfarer sunglasses. There’s some woman caterwauling tunelessly in the background. Dear God, make it stop. Drivel, I’m off to wash my ears. I feel unclean after listening to this. Music so nauseating it began to make me feel violent. I not felt that since someone played me a Limp Bizkit record a decade ago. These people must be stopped. 0/10
www.catsandcatsandcats.com

Rory Mac

Cats and Cats and Cats – Motherwhale (Function)

Almost a year to the day that their debut album ‘If I’d Had An Atlas’ was released, Cats and Cats and Cats return with its successor. First emerging over six years ago, Cats and Cats and Cats quickly found themselves referred to as either math or post rock, labels that have become more redundant with each new release. Last year’s debut saw them further rein in their instrumental excesses and produce a fine collection of cleverly written and performed pop songs, brimming with inventiveness and fresh ideas.

‘Motherwhale’ is the sound of the band progressing further and at times completely mastering the art of recording infectious three-minute songs. Based on a concept, at times hard to follow, involving whales and the seas, the album again displays the band’s ability to create the most surreal images “…then overhead a needle and thread aeroplane, scatters the sky with birds in bow ties singing sad songs to you”… The band have also managed to regularly showcase their creative and intriguing word play skills “…I heard your shouts behind the shed when you found your sister tangled in a boy, your parents exploded in the kitchen, all over the worktops and your toys”… Many of the songs, as on previous releases, feature words cunningly placed into gaps that they shouldn’t fit before joyous band sing-alongs wrestle their way out. The stuttering rhythm of ‘Olympic Mons’ is soon overtaken by sweeping string orchestration, a feature that beautifully compliments many of the tracks present. Album closer ‘Come Home’ hints at excesses of old but is appropriately placed in the track listing. Based around the simple refrain “…Come home I’m tired, this isn’t how it should end”… before a huge infusion of distortion finally signals its demise with over eleven minutes on the clock.

Cats and Cats and Cats have again produced another excellent album, one that shows how far they have progressed in recent years. Their sound, despite its many influences, is completely unique and therefore instantly recognisable. They have successfully married the most intriguing and surreal of lyrics with stuttering guitars and sweeping violins. 9/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Juffage – Semicircle (Function)

Recorded in a quite mind-boggling 22 different locations in the US and UK over a six year period, Semicircle is the product of one Chicago-based solo multi-instrumentalist Jeff T. Smith. Smith is not your average bedroom geek (nor, even with the T in his name is he American, he’s really from Leeds), and comes with a heavyweight CV, having worked in the past with Brian Deck and The Great Albini himself. Live, he employs loops and manipulated cassettes and all manner of other tit-bits to create his rather dense, layered sound. And, to an extent, he’s been quite successful. The eponymous opening track gently folds out into an empty freight train hooting across an endless horizon, and he comfortably moves through a variety of influences; “Stop Making Music” sounds like MGMT on diazepam while “120/240” is a transient, but memorable arpeggiated soundscape. “Under Fanblades” is probably the least appealing track on offer, an unpleasant lurch toward twee complete with cheesy brass but is partially rescued with some appealing harmonies. But “My Weakness” and the following track “HHV” are perhaps however the most illuminating of all. Both are a restless, twitchy journey - a good reflection of the bitty nature of a medium that acknowledges, and maybe feeds off, the ever-shortening attention spans of the multiple-tabs music fan this record will ultimately serve. So Smith has crammed everything plus the kitchen sink into this album, but that’s it’s perhaps its biggest problem. However much he tries to juxtapose the undeniable writing talent he has with the found-sound fuzzy experimental side, his vocals almost sub-consciously feel repelled by it and a longing for a less complicated existence comes across. 6/10.
www.juffage.com

Rory Mac

 

Miranda - Growing Heads Above The Roof (From Scratch)

Italian three-piece Miranda have been functioning as a band since 1999 and ‘Growing Heads Above The Roof’ is their third album. Originally released in 2009 it is for some unknown reason now being re- released.

Whilst listening to this release it is impossible for the listener not to immediately hear the influence of LCD Soundsystem which appears to be constantly present throughout all ten tracks. Unfortunately rather than simply being inspired, Miranda conspire to produce what feels simply like a light-weight tribute. The opening lines of ‘…from the left side of my ass/head’ “…I was born in 1977, 1978, 1972, South Italy, North Africa, Mediterranean sea, the huge lake, the lake is huge”… appear to have come straight from a quickly discarded page of James Murphy’s lyric book. Strangely the spoken vocals present not only remind of the aforementioned James Murphy but also of Shaun Ryder.

There are many tracks on this album that could be described as listenable, some enjoyable, but overall the album feels greatly lacking in any imagination. 5/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Mehdi Zannad - Fugue (Third Side Records)

‘Fugue’ is Mehdi Zannad’s first album as a solo artist after a decade of releasing music under the band name Fugu.

Sung entirely in his native language French this is a collection of unashamedly pure pop songs. Heavily dosed with multi-tracked harmony vocals there is a certain late-1960s feel to the album. However there are also similarities to the more recent offerings of Teenage Fanclub and the Super Furry Animals’ more mainstream moments. The press release compares Zannad’s use of his mother tongue with that of bands such as OS Mutantes and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and claims “…you can hear they’re saying interesting and exciting things about their respective cultures without necessarily understanding a word”… This statement can equally be applied to this album.

Ranging from electric guitar to piano based ballads to the orchestral drenched closing track ‘Paresse’; this is an eclectic album that manages to retain its heavy pop leaning throughout with a constant release of contagious melodies. Totalling only twenty eight minutes in its entirety, this is a hugely disciplined, but equally fun and successful attempt at crafting an album of three-minute pop nuggets. 7/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Epigene - A Wall Street Odyssey (Amammi Music)

‘A Wall Street Odyssey’, the third album by New York band Epigene, is self described as a “…new rock opera... a hero’s journey for the twenty first century…” Split into three sections (The City, The Country, …And Back Again) it tells the story of Yossarian , a wall street “…money master”… who is achieving well in his career but is under great stress, working all hours to pay his debts and fund his affluent lifestyle. Finding sanctuary in alcohol and drugs it is not long (track 6) before he finds himself unemployed and with a drug habit to rival Russell Brand. Rescued by his brother and escorted to a tree-hugging community in the country it isn’t long before Yossarian discovers talking snakes and gossiping spirits. After suffering glimpses of the future turmoil in the city he returns in full on hairy hippy form and preaches a better way of life in the country. After the arrival of an all controlling One World Government, Yossarian flees on his bike, ET-style, to the safety of his commune.

The music itself in ‘The City’ feels predominantly 1970s influenced, almost prog-rock like in places, but without any of the excesses. The songs themselves are focused but very repetitive with a heavy reliance on choruses. It is during ‘The Country’ that the album descends in to a bland array of folk inspired songs which the album struggles to ever recover from. Tracks become nondescript and all sense of musical adventure appears to have evaporated. Clichés or stereotypes seem to be regularly lurking around every corner ready to hijack another song. The message itself feels particularly preachy and at times it is actually hard to feel any empathy for the main character.

This is a very ambitious album but one that very quickly falls apart. The story (concept) is told cohesively but in a way that leaves nothing to the listeners’ imagination and certainly fails to deliver the emotional expectation of the opera tag. 3/10

Mark Whiffin

 

The Computers – This Is The Computers (One Little Indian Records)

Legendary rock'n'roll meetings can be great catalysts … John Cale and Lou Reed would be sharing each other's poetry and musical vision in no time, but surely never realized the possibilities when they met lip synching on cheesy American TV shows, Bowie whisked Iggy Pop off to Berlin in the mid-70s before his career imploded post-Stooges, and Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan breathed new life into each others' work to cock a snook at everyone who said they didn't have a cat in hell's ... Exeter punk band The Computers may have faced similar uncertainties. Their 2008 debut ep on Fierce Panda Records You Can't Hide From The Computers wasn't a tame affair by any means, 'Love The Music, Hate The Kids' and 'Teenage Tourettes Club' working up a real lather, but the whole thing seemed to lack the oomph factor! Luckily, John 'Speedo' Reis, driving force behind 90s Rocket From The Crypt and other great garage bands, has it in spades, so when he invited the band to his home in Santa Fe, California, in the Spring of 2010, This Is The Computers was in the can in just 4 days! No overdubs or studio gimmickry (ironic for a band named The Computers!), a sort of punk elixir bottled in less than 25 minutes.

It's not hard to hear Rocket From The Crypt's influence on this album, particularly in the singer's growl. Add to that the band's tightly-sprung sound and homespun punk aesthetic, and you've got yourself a rollicking good ride on This Is The Computers. The band are wearing clean-cut red tops on the cover, rather like Kraftwerk did on The Man Machine, but the quirkiness is quickly debunked with lightning rod opener 'Where Do I Fit In?'. Packed with as much teenage angst and punk attitude as a song of 1 minute 13 seconds can muster, the singer berates his father for the frustration and alienation he feels and asks why he can't can't connect with places. Punk attitude delivered at breakneck speed you bet, and while not much more than a cigarette paper separates any of the songs on the album, there isn't an ounce of fat either.

'Lovers Lovers Lovers' would be Revillos 80s classic 'Motorbike Beat' but the boy-girl Ronette sweeteners are lost in the shrieked vocal and snarling punk guitar. This is like US tragi-band Suicide trashing their rock'n'roll legacy. Not much of a join between 'Blood Thicker', 'Hot Damoclease' and 'Cinco De Mayo' but nobody told the band to stop the rollercoaster ride they were on! 'Rhythm Review' is some sort of punked-up Little Richard number … or is that the sound of Chuck Berry being run over by his own Cadillac? 'Group Identity' starts off Banshees and ends up Buzzcocks on a joy ride, but when the band finally take their feet off the gas at 'The Queen In 3D', the whole thing's pretty much done and dusted on 20 minutes. Strange to hear the singer resting his voice before the tempo is raised ear-splitting pitch again, a song right out of the Rocket's or Cramps rock'n'roll top drawer. 'Music Dead' arcs the whole album nicely, so we forget when all this barnstorming started. The only slight reservation I've got about This Is The Computers is that the vocals are 50% inaudible, so it's 80s hardcore punk, like the Dead Kennedys, UK Subs and Exploited all over again ...

76 was 'Complete Control' and 'God Save The Queen', then came punk's rebirth. We were all young once (I keep telling myself!), and maybe that's the key, the collective memory of this genre is short but the next rush of musical adrenalin is always lurking just around the corner. This Is The Computers may be simple, but simple works best. Punk's certainly not dead, it's just re-energizing itself. Hives may have fallen by the wayside, but recent Pulled Apart By Horses, Toronto punk stalwarts Fucked Up and The Computers are all keeping the Black Flag flying!

Matthew Haddrill