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albums - nov 2011


   
 

Emika - Emika (Ninja Tune)

The release of Emika’s eponymous debut album follows recent praising and playing from influential music figures such as Thom Yorke and Mary-Anne Hobbs. Inspired by her immersion in the sounds of dub-step and techno after spells living in both London and Bristol, Emika has moulded these styles to create a highly unique release.

Having worked with the acclaimed Berlin producer Rashad Becker to help craft this album the results are quite stunning. Not afraid to rattle the speakers on occasions with its basslines the aforementioned dub-step and techno influences are merged beautifully with interesting song writing and a heavy dosage of pop sensibility. Many of the songs are instantly infectious with Emika’s mesmerising half-spoken, half-sung vocals perilously perched astride pounding basslines and spine shaking techno flushes. The production itself is spectacular with great care and attention having being spent on the final presentation of the tracks as well as their musical contents. However it is there simply as to garnish, as accusations of style over substance are far from accurate with this album.

Emika has produced an unusual debut album and one that appears determined to carve its own genre path and not follow where others have previously trod. Fully expect this album to feature heavily in the end of year lists in a number of more forward thinking publications.

Mark Whiffin

 

Roll The Dice – In Dust (The Leaf Label)

Stockholm duo Malcolm Pardon and Peder Mannerfelt return under their Roll The Dice guise for the follow up to last year’s highly praised self-titled debut.

Again capturing the unpredictable nature of analogue synthesizers, ‘In Dust’ feels instantly warm and familiar. Maybe that’s due to the driving rhythmic motions reminiscent of Neu! at their finest or the fuzzy crackle of needle on vinyl that is present throughout despite the use of cd as the format of choice for this promo copy.

Mannerfelt informs that “…it’s meant to be a little unsettling and claustrophobic…” however this soon feels greatly understated. The slow brooding drone of opener ‘Iron Bridge’ soon gives way to an entrancing rhythm ploughing through dark unknown landscapes. Cinematic in scope and ambition, corners are turned, places and characters gradually revealed as shadows are slowly peeled away.

‘In Dust’ is an expansive album but never one that resorts to dropping the quality level in exchange for extended length. Relying on past equipment to seek new paths and consequently sounding futuristic as well as retrospective is a challenge that few bands can succeed or even undertake but Roll The Dice manage it with apparent ease.

Mark Whiffin

 

Pumajaw – Demonmeowmeow (Bedevil)

Pumajaw are obviously onto a bit of a winner when they are able to combine John Wills programming skills with Pinkie Maclure’s err, distinctive vocals. I hesitate because they certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. For instance her big vocal entrance to lead track ‘The Mazy Laws’ sounds like a foghorn going off. But it is exactly her off-kilter style which makes this work way better than having someone like Morcheeba’s Skye singing sultry accompaniment.

Although in another life Pumajaw were more ostensibly alt-folk, this album sees them in a far more edgy, if not out and out hostile, mood. There’s much quiet minimalism which allows itself to be punctuated with an arresting vocal or harsh loop rather than adopting a hammer and tongs approach. For instance ‘Tallulah’ has an epic quality which could only exist thanks to its simple heartbeat percussion underpinning the powerful industrial crescendo.

There are still little glimpses of those folky roots which surfaces every so often and provide a nice touchstone to Pumajaw’s evolution. But basically this is seat of the pants stuff – approach with caution. 8/10
www.pumajaw.co.uk

SB

 

Marble Valley - 'Breakthrough' (Sea Records)

Big guitar feedback intro, grimy bass riff and growling vocal, you can guess where Marble Valley were last night. Listening to BRMC and Death In Vegas round at their mates pad until about 2am from the sound of it. Actually, they sound like seasoned rock world veterans who put aside their lifestyle excesses for an Xbox and vegetable allotments a year or two back, although their need to continue to express their all consuming world weary cynicism has yet again driven them back into the studio, and these guys sure know what they're doing. One of them was in Pavement, you know.

'Breakthrough' would work as an album if it actually had some of what Marble Valley are a little self consciously singing about, ideas about 'cool', 'rock'n'roll', 'art' and other concepts which the bands Marble Valley are drawing their inspiration from actually represent, instead of the commentary on these ideas that 'Breakthrough' is. There's a recurring lyrical theme about parties, and partying, that suggests Marble Valley weren't actually invited to or didn't bother turning up at some spread Iggy Pop threw in LA in the mid 90s or something and they've sort of regretted it ever since. The initially humourous cynicism starts to sound actually embittered and the album falls a bit flat as a consequence. If you want to play 'Spot The Influence' for half an hour or so then this is possibly the album for you, although there is something a bit contrived and forced sounding about 'Breakthrough' that I didn't actually like. 'We've got to get into the groove' they sing on 12th track 'Groover', but you've either got it or you don't, Marble Valley.
www.marblevalley.com

JG

 

Puro Instinct - 'Headbangers In Ecstacy' (Record Makers)

The keyboard is gliding, guitars are sweetly chiming, there's even birdsong in the background. So why is the first track on Puro's album called 'Everybody's Sick'? Definitely some deranged imaginations at work here, ones whose influences are very obviously the Cocteau Twins and other late 80s Dreampop practitioners. Actually sisters, Skylar and Piper Kaplan are the new Alisha's Attic OR ELSE. They do make some very pretty and mildly deranged music on their doubtlessly ironically titled album, and their recreations of the synth driven powerpop of over two decades ago are both accurate and smoothly produced, making their darker moments even more gleefully sinister and wistfully poetic, simultaneously. Imagine Liz Fraser singing 'I beheaded My Little Pony' backed by some glossy zoot suited chart hopefuls of the era (Icehouse/Then Jericho/Big In Japan etc) and wonder if Puro Instinct are really your cup of chai.

They are? That's just swell. The press release actually says 'psychedelic pop discovery', with its tounge very firmly lodged in a Split Enz cassette sleeve and the vibe is quite definitely set to 'freaky' throughout, it's unrelentingly, unforgivingly, and unimaginably twee with some deft turns of musicianship courtesy of Ariel Pink and other friends, who include the unforgettably named Crazy Murray (probably the drummer). You WILL like Puro Instinct, you will you will you will or you'll probably die or something.
www.myspace.com/puroinstinct

JG

 

Butcher The Bar - 'For Each A Future Tethered'

I really like the CD artwork on this one, a pattern of red and yellow rectangles. No track listing or label info, that's all on the sleeve. Butcher The Bar though, I'm not sure I know what that means. Like all the best surreal (or in this instance cubist) artistry, any definition of meaning is left entirely for the viewer to decide. This is a CD though, and you would expect the most important thing about it is the music that's on it, so after a failed attempt at counting how many rectangles were on it I decided I really ought to listen to it. Joel Nicholson, whose second album this is, is based in Manchester and there's an inevitable comparison that some listeners are going to make with (if you'll excuse the extended art metaphor) Badly Drawn Boy, and there are notable similarities in the songs and style of this album to the point where you might suspect the actual involvement of Badly himself.

It's really quite a pleasant listen, laid back and lyrical, Nicholson's acoustic guitars and mellow vocal are supported by piano, brush stroked percussion and the occasional trumpet. And mellow it determinedly remains. It's alright, 'For Each A Future Tethered', but it sort of slides into more mellowness where it could use not exactly more energy or a sudden blast of feedback or symphonic prog rock grandeur, but just a little more of the kind of imagination that's gone into the sleeve artwork, just a little more of a turn of originality and less of a very obviously watered down recreation of a the music of a well known singer songwriter who had quite some success almost a decade ago. I'm still deciding if I enjoyed looking at Butcher The Bar's album more than I did listening to it.
www.myspace.com/butcherthebarband

JG

 

Swimming – Ecstatics International (Tummy Touch)

Swimming are from Nottingham (or at least a pit village outside Nottingham. I’ve got quite a lot of time for Nottingham and its music scene. I’ve spent many a night there in various clubs and gig venues. I’ve seen guitar bands like Six by Seven, metallers like Tool and even a few indie-pop shows like Bearsuit. But I’ve never come across anything as fantastical and polished as Swimming’s adrenalin fuelled synth pop before.

I’ve probably already raved about how fantastic album opener ‘Neutron Wireless Crystal’ and its B-side ‘Mining for Diamonds’ are in my previous single review. But you could throw a dart at the track listing from this album and come up with a pretty decent single every time. Perhaps it’s a result of band head honcho John Simpson’s eclectic background (including living in Australia and the Cocos islands) and his brother’s influence (a former champion beatboxer) that brig such a wealth of ideas and songwriting skills to the table. But whatever it is, the whole of the band bring it to life with glisteningly slick layers of drum machines (with just enough live drums to bring them life), guitars and synths. I was already going to earmark ‘Sun in the Island’ a surefire future single before reading that it was already released earlier this year. Oops. Have another listen anyway at the way the cheesey intro (like the theme music from a 70’s news bulletin) explodes into a euphoric chorus. Excellent video too.

OK then, if I’ve missed ‘Sun in the Island’ I’d propose the trippier shoegazy ‘I Do(Come True)’ with its clunking bass-backed guitar lines in the mid-section. Between these more psychedelic guitar moments Swimming slip in the likes of ‘All Things Made New (Stand) ‘ – a disco/club track that combines Kylie and Blondie in a musical wet dream.

I shall be seeking out the live dates. I suggest you do too. 9/10
www.swimmingband.com

SB

 

You Me At Six – Sinners Never Sleep

I thought a lot of the last album by this lot. It had me remembering, and saying, that I have always been a little bit pop-punk. I also noted that it was the kind of album that would push them nearer to being gigantic. I think I can say “I got it spot on there!”

This album has to be more than Hold Me Down, it has to move further, make more kids dance and I'd guess it has to provide the band with more venues to cross off the list I was told about when I interviewed Chris. They have not only played, but sold out all the venues they had told me were on their wishlist, so they must have higher aims and bigger stages in mind.

I think they might do it. If they can keep improving like this, album to album, You Me At Six are going to be gigantic. I hope so. It's always great, in music, at work, in sport, with stand up, with anything, to notice improvement. To hear this band all sound better than they did last time adds to what is already a good time.

If you find my interview from about a year ago, you'll read Chris talk about Incubus and how they seem to have lost the drive and energy that made them such an attractive proposition. At the moment, You Me At Six are becoming a more attractive proposition, a more exciting band.

Little Death, the song they wanted to name the album after, (and they couldn't because the record label wouldn't let them, which tells you how hardcore they are.) suggests that You Me At Six have Arena ROCK in their eyes. No one is surprised, they always did. At least they have (more) songs with which to fill those arenas when they inevitably and deservedly get there. I'm glad that the mutual fondness between Paramore and You Me At Six (evidenced by their sweet Tweets to each other) has resulted in Paramore influencing the sound of this album. No bad thing. (and again, not a massive leap to begin with). So, I think that You Me At Six know that they're still a little pop-punk. That's alright. That's cool. Admitting that is cooler than saying you're a hardcore band now.

However, it isn't all plaudits. The much vaunted “Hardcore Direction” isn't here. Oli Sykes and Winston McCall turn up and do screaming, and Josh has himself a reasonable Grohl-howl sometimes, but they aren't suddenly a hardcore band. They are rougher, there is more bite and they are better. So nothing else really matters.

Christopher Carney

 

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

I have never seen Ryan Adams in concert. I would very much like to. I'd like to see him play a room with a bar at one end of it and a stage at the other. I'd like to feel warm and sad at the same time.

A friend of mine listened to Ryan's latest album and just said, “Ryan Adams makes it look like everyone else isn't trying... Which is all the more impressive when you consider that he isn't actually trying quite a lot of the time, apparently. “ I don't really have much else to add.

That's the infuriatingly brilliant thing about him. He seems charmed and along with the teen idol wife and impressive side-project good-times, these songs just fall out of him. They're all lovely and even beautiful and you'd get your money back if you only ever listened to the wonderful opening track. Don't do that. Keep listening because this is a Ryan Adams album you can listen to over and over. Just like all the other ones.

Christopher Carney

 

Ed Wood Jr - Silence (Swarm Records)

Ed Wood Jr are a two piece band from Lille, France, and this release is their second full length offering for Swarm records.

Bursting out of the blocks ‘Maila Nurmi’ is a bass rumbling, cantering beast of a tune. Reminding of Battles’ more immediate moments, it opens proceedings in blistering style. ‘Minitel’, with its complex drum rhythms pushed to the forefront of the mix, soon descends into a post-hardcore skirmish. ‘Babtrip’ features an intricate and funky introduction, comparable to offerings from Foals, before tumbling into demon possessed guitar riffing. ‘IVCV’ reminds of Gallops jamming with Slayer with its danceable synthesised rhythms soon to be causing limbs to flail wildly on a dance floor near you. Unwilling to maintain the early relentless pace ‘Interlude’ evokes memories of early spaced-out Pink Floyd recordings before the rolling drums of ‘Walkwoman’ signal yet another assault as vocals are growled and spat out astride a menacing, pounding rhythm.

This is a refreshing release that is full of unusual ideas. Its production allows a range of instrumentation their moment in the spot light often burying the vocals to create, on occasions, a claustrophobic feel.

Mark Whiffin

 

Tom James Parmiter - Providence (Zube Records)

Tom James Parmiter, who hails from London, is a twenty-five year old composer and ‘Providence’ is his debut album.

The sweeping opening track, appropriately titled ‘Providence (Intro)’, sets the scene for this album beautifully, with its sweeping strings and slightly sinister glitch undercurrent. ‘Kyoto Dreams’, which has apparently been receiving considerable exposure, at times leaves the listener checking the tempo setting hasn’t slipped to an increased speed; a record that would surely have puzzled the late great John Peel. Its electronic style strings sound as if they could take flight at any moment. The pace of the album soon slows with the spiritual sounds of ‘The Carousel Suite’, choral singing with a sparse synthesised backing. The eclectic nature of the album continues with ‘Ricochet’ showcasing an infectious guitar riff alongside a host of other equally catchable melodies. The funky rhythms make a return during ‘Kaleidoscope’, however they feel more restrained and before long strings are added creating a sense of epicness to the conclusion. Closing track ‘Man Of The Mountain’ feels harrowing until half way through when a slow pounding electronic beat decides to enter proceedings before submitting to the haunting piano refrain.

This is an eclectic album and unique in many ways. Ambitious in its scope, it is highly enjoyable to explore and each listen always seems to reveal a little more.

Mark Whiffin

 

You Love Her Coz She’s Dead – s/t (Glasstone Records)

What is it about these Brighton types and their obsession with Zombies? First there is the Zombie march a couple of weeks ago and now we have YLHBSD who name their whole band after the dead. And definitely a nomination for one of the most uncomfortable album covers of the year too – I don’t have any kids in nappies but I know that is definitely not how you put a safety pin on a diaper.

Elle and Jay from the band have seemingly been around for a while and include musical credits on various TV shows and films on their CV. Their music is almost as assaulting as their artwork – unapologetic, remorseless beats, acerbic harmonies and demented female vocals. Somewhere near Is Tropical or Crystal Castles musically, where YLHCSD diverge is their relentless barrage throughout the ten tracks for us to judge here. Although occasionally employing some housey influences in tracks such as ‘Legacy’, a spot of rave in ‘Pull Out the Nails’, as an album this is hard work on your ears. No doubt aiming to be uncompromising, the effect is actually a bit single paced and samey. I can mange two or three tracks of this at a time but any more than that and I’m reaching for the Anadin.
www.youlovehercoxshesdead.com

SB

 

Miele - 'La Jour Et La Nuit' (Folkwit)

With adult Europop providing inspiration for so many bands both now and less recently, it's interesting to hear an actually Belgian band doing it, drawing as they do upon some of their own music traditions rather than receiving them at a distance. Sung and indeed played entirely in French, 'La Jour Et La Nuit' has a quite genuinely gamine charm to its ten tracks and don't worry if you can't follow all of the words, just close one or two of your eyes and you're spinning around the Champs Elysees in an open topped 2CV, sipping pastis, reading Sartre and chewing a Gitanes, in b/w, in 1962, and with film posters bearing your own image in the background. The Nouvelle Vague is very far from over, and Miele provide as concise a soundtrack to it as I've heard from either side of the channel.

It's impossible to fault Miele for retro chic euroclass, they've got that in buckets. Right from the swing jazz intro of the albums first and title track, Miele present a selection of their own takes upon styles you may or may not already think yourself familiar with, lyrical chansonnieiring (Chateaux De Sable), boppy Ye Ye, (Tu N'es Par La) while blending some neat guitar riffs in amongst the brightly performed melodies and developing a possibly unique garage sound that owes as much to the Raveonettes as it does to Jacques Brel. 'La Veilleuse' is exactly the kind of intelligent adult songwriting that Belle And Sebastian actually gave their eye teeth for, and 'L'Inventaire' is Dreampop as if Miele had actually invented the style, complete with reverberating drums and soaring chorus. 'La Jour Et La Nuit' is the work of a band whose abilities take their music into a seeming maze of ideas and influences, and a very nearly perfect pop record, in any language.
www.folkwit.com/artists/miele

JG

 

Flare Acoustic Arts League - 'Big Top/Encore EP2' (Affairs Of The Heart)

An associate of The Magnetic Fields, L D Beghtol has already released these two EPs to what I can only assume was a less than appreciative response so both EPs are released on this CD as a belated reminder to everyone whose collection is incomplete without a copy of '69 Love Songs' that there's plenty more where those 69 came from. If you're as keen on The Magnetic Fields as I am, you probably just stopped reading this and rushed to your nearest CD site to order a copy of 'Big Top/Encore' (assuming you haven't already got it) leaving those Tasty readers unfamiliar with the most influential ukelele band in recorded history to discover what they can about them, and indeed the tradition that Flare Acoustic Arts League continue with this reissue.

There are definite similarities, in the sound, production and songwriting, with The Magnetic Fields, aside from the prominent 'No Ukes' slogan on the cover of the CD which you can take to indicate the move away from the alt.folk stylings of the Fields that the songs on the album reflect. The most obvious pointer to this is the cover of the Psychedelic Fur's 'Yes I Do' which has all the hallmarks of the swirling, garage punk Dandy-Warhols-on-a-barge sound that Flare Acoustic Arts League only really want those of us who very genuinely appreciate what they're doing to hear. If you heard anything by the Magnetic Fields and wondered how they'd sound if they were more of a conventional rock band then 'Big Top/Encore', with its combination of late 90s indie and the kind of lyrical and musical twists that characterise the Magnetic Fields music will answer all of your questions.
http://affairsoftheheart.de/artists.html#faal

JG

 

Butcher Boy - 'Helping Hands' (Damaged Goods)

A year or two ago, much was expected from Butcher Boy and as far as the mainstream press were concerned, they had actually delivered it. Glowing reviews and high scores in any music or national paper you might are to mention (Uncut, NME, Guardian, Sunday Times) accompanied with the kind of hyperbole that music writers use when genuinely enthusiastic about a band and its music. Butcher Boy were a very hip name to drop in the upper reaches of certain parts of the media at the end of the previous decade. From Glasgow, they were the Belle & Sebastian/Mull Historical Society/ Arab Strap it was very cool to like after each of those bands had either split or gone into hiatus. I will now reveal my utter ignorance and mention that I've never actually heard of Butcher Boy until now. Perhaps the fact that they only play live shows around once every two years has kept them off a few peoples radar, including mine.

So, two years on from the acclaim that their 'React Or Die' album met with, it's difficult third album time for a band with something to continue to live up to, and 'Helping Hands' does sound like a mature, thoughtful work from some experienced and talented musicians. It also sounds oddly flat, contrived and overproduced, with every ounce of humour, sophistication and sensuality bulldozed out of its songs by some deeply unsympathetic syrupy mid 70s type AOR production which forgets that (for example) James Taylor and The Carpenters weren't either funny or ironic the first time round, they were just plain dull. Butcher Boy appear to have realised this around half way through recording the album and the songs on 'Helping Hands' that do succeed are the ones where the band pare down the instrumentation and rock out a bit, but the shadow of their previous success appears to hang over 'Helping Hands' like a large damp stain on a carefully artexed ceiling.
www.butcher-boy.co.uk

JG

 

Kutosis - 'Fanatical Love' (Barely Regal)

Treading the line that marks the boundaries of Punk and Metal, Cardiff's Kutosis thrash it out like there's no today, let alone tomorrow. I reviewed one of their here previously and their debut album contains everything I already decided I like about Kutosis, twelve tracks of it. Exactly what that is, is in part down to the atmospheric production (Rory Atwell of Test Icicles) which brings added depths to the trios already dense, fractally imploding sound. Skilled musicians and able to bring more involved metallic aspects to their artpunk template, the songs on

'Fanatical Love' are delivered at thunderous pace and switch from grinding power riffs to angular hi-hats to more intricate instrumental breaks, often to quite spectacular effect. Kutosis are at their best when they give their instrumental imaginations full rein, and come across like a combination of Her Bright Skies and Thulebasen, mixing up the songwriting and prog elements and drawing in assorted guitar and percussion effects to boost their varied rhythmic approaches. The only criticism I've really got is their decision to split instrumental 'Islands Vs Oceans' into two separate tracks when it would work more effectively in full, and their video project - videos for each of the ten album tracks made by different film makers - reveals some interesting ambitions at work. Kutosis are pushing more than one boundary and 'Fanatical Love' is an impressive debut by any standard.
www.kutosis.co.uk

JG

 

The Spills – Occam’s Razor (Philophobia Music)

Wakefield 4-piece release their debut album, produced by James Kenoa (better known for his work with Dinosaur Pile-up and Pulled Apart By Horses). There’s a strong whiff of Americana grunge-noise core from this lot. And while a lot of bands use the first song as a swaggering statement of intent, The Spills instead choose to shamble into view with the wistful resignation of “Lockets” with its closing refrain of “Empty Locket/Empty Home” before sprawling out into a lengthy lo-fi outro. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the LP as the band meander their way through a dolls house of songs, flipping things on their head for the undeniably anthem like “Summer Vibes”, complete with cheeky time signature changes. Pavement do seem to have a stranglehold on this band though, and on several occasions there are lapses into pure parody. It is ironic then, that when the band give this up for the opening two minutes of “White Flag” (“I don’t want to be a caricature of myself anymore”), and the vocals become at once more natural, they become an altogether more engaging prospect.

The Spills make an agreeable racket, but like contemporaries St Deluxe (who sound more like Dinosaur Jr than Dinosaur Jr), it’d be nice to hear this band stretch out with a little more of their own identity on their next outing. That said, if 90’s slacker rock along the lines of Sebadoh is your thing, then this record is definitely going to be up your street. 5/10.

Rory Mac

 

Peter Kernel – White Death Black Heart (Code 7)

Swiss-Canadian art-punk trio that unfortunately fall into the well-worn trap of sounding like what the conventional, clichéd definition of an art-punk trio would be: spikey guitars, “arty” female vocals verging on the monologue.

In the past I’ll admit it, I’ve been a terrible fucker for taking the piss out of a band’s press releases. It’s difficult to stop yourself self from laughing though at the sheer pretentiousness of it all when you are informed that “the band initially got together to write the soundtrack for the experimental musical “Like a Giant in a Towel”, directed by bass player Barbara”. That the drummer (of all people) is the only one that registers the irony of listing their multi-media talents . Ema Matis give these as “Drums, Drummer” while Aris Bassetti helpfully has guitar, voice, and graphic designer. Should we attach twat to the end of this?

The material is little better. Opening track “Anthem of Hearts” is a poor extrapolation of The Pixies “Bone Machine” sung by Daphne and Celeste. “We’re Not Gonna Be the Same Again” is Sonic Youth-lite with a mildly interesting descending motif at the end, and it’s difficult to fight off embarrassment at anything so arch as “Tide’s High”, a tedious monologue by the musical-directing bass player who appears to be having dreams about pirate attacks.

The final track is called “There is Nothing Left to Laugh About”. They should have put this at the start of the album so we could have saved ourselves the trouble of listening to the rest of it. 2/10

Rory Mac

 

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Domino)

Malkmus releases his 5th post-Pavement album with Beck Hansen at the knob-twiddling helm, his third (or 4th depending who you ask) with The Jicks and it also marks the departure of Jicks drummer Janet Weiss.

It still bears all those hallmarks you remember from Pavement days but is a tighter, more concise effort than 2008’s “Real Emotional Trash”. Malkmus and Beck have produced a quietly effective album full of pottering round the house moments (“Asking Price” springs readily to mind). The worryingly named “Spazz” is a tempo switching before sprawling into Ennio Morricone-esque aaahs, and “Forever 28” is a bittersweet but jaunty relationship outing. Malkmus’s lyrics are always winding, humorous adventures peppered with moments of observational clarity. That said it’s the throwaway line in “Senator” (“We know what the Senator wants/What the Senator wants…is a blow job”) that had me openly guffawing and was a welcome highlight of a welcome album. 8/10.

Rory Mac

 

Shield Your Eyes – Volume 4 (Function Records)

‘Volume 4’ is unsurprisingly Shield Your Eyes’ fourth album and follows their ever growing reputation as an astonishing live band.

Appearing to take in a diverse range of influences, ‘Volume 4’ at times feels primitive and exceptionally raw. Unashamedly stripping back production to a bare minimum offers a real sense of honesty and spontaneity whilst displaying confidence in the songs themselves. Opening track ‘Larkspur’ features all sorts of guitar sonics, the track changing pace regularly whilst vocals are growled passionately. ‘Drill Your Heavy Heart’ shows the bands’ ability to write an infectious classic rock track, with a gorgeous melody and a quite stunning guitar solo. ‘Glad’ and ‘Crowd’ are sparse blues style tracks which meander along, beautifully showcasing the delicate and restrained sound Shield Your Eyes can produce despite being tagged as post-rock or even post-hardcore by some publications. The album continues to twist and turn with ‘Tryna Lean A Ladder Up Against The Wind’ and ‘You Merit High Hopes’ hooking the listener on numerous occasions. They are cloaked in the beauty of organic sound: you can picture the band, amps stacked floor to ceiling, blasting this out as the tape records before all agreeing that the first take is just right. It is the blues soaked ‘Schutze Deine Augen’ that fittingly closes proceedings, the vocals sounding as raw and exposed as ever.

In ‘Volume 4’ Shield Your Eyes have produced their strongest, most consistent album yet. Surely it is about time that the classic rock and blues lovers, and not just their loyal fan base, realise just how much Shield Your Eyes have to offer.

Mark Whiffin

 

American Werewolf Academy – Everything is Alright So Far (Damnably)

It's time for some Dallas pop rock isn't it? Is it? I don't know. What does pop rock from Dallas sound like? Well, that's not important. The whole state won't make music like this. This paragraph is unnecessary.

The album opens with The Hop, a gentle-paced lurcher to get the hipsters moving their weight from one foot to the other and back again. The guitars are simple yet effective with just a glimmer of dirty fuzz clinging on to the edge of every note – whilst the vocals have something (extremely vaguely) Springsteen about them. There's a distinct raw aura that surrounds the track that could only come from a group of gents who drown themselves in the sound of the underground and watch trashy b-movies for fun.

The following track Summer Ship has a bit more pace but still retains a simplistic form – something that would usually be a criticism from myself but I can't help but feel that if things got any more intricate, I wouldn't like it.

A couple of the tracks are a little punky in their vibe such as Rock Show Tonight, which draws on many sounds of the sixties and seventies, and the bands that pioneered these sounds – apparently teenage kicks are still hard to beat. The opening track and The Kid In The Picture are a couple of really enjoyable tracks, but from then on the pace picks up, things get a bit more thrashy, and the hook has gone. Imagine Gaslight Anthem, if you will, at the age of seventeen. They might not have sounded like this (how old are they anyway?) but it's a fairly accurate stab... That kind of knees-up rockabilly punk vocal but with less refined undertones.

The album ends with Welcome To The Academy, possibly the most promising of these scrappy tracks – a song that transports you back to college, care-free and jumping around at your first rock show. It doesn't matter who's playing; you're Mum let you go and some girl in fishnets just winked at you.

Thom Curtis

 

The Words – Truth & Faith (Phoenixx Records)

Manchester's answer to Modest Mouse, and whilst the vocals are marginally more refined they're lacking the scattering of outrageously catchy riffs. But I'm not writing them off – you don't need killer riffs to write a good album, and there's no denying a reasonable amount of head-bob-ability. It's the slower tracks that win me over, and I'm going to stick me' neck out and state that, I reckon, these guys aren't half bad live. As the album progresses, it improves, the indie nuances become more and more evident, or maybe it's just that first track that turned me off. But progress as it may, it's just a bit average. I'd stick around if they were on the stage but, probably wouldn't put the CD on. It's inoffensive indie that you can't dance to but, its alright. It's the vocal harmonies (loose, but evident) that hold it all together. Choice tracks: Time and Falling.

Thom Curtis

 

Johnny Foreigner – Johnny Foreigner vs The World (Alcopop)

What a telling title; this is Johnny Foreigner's third studio album, yet their first away from big-budget labels. Is this to be a weapon in their v-flicking arsenal, or the final nail in the coffin? They've got seventeen tracks to convince us...

Whilst the first track If I'm The Most Famous Boy You've Fucked, Then Honey, Yr In Trouble has a Fallout Boy-esque title that makes you cringe your own face off, it starts with a bit of promise – and an intro that really could go anywhere. This inevitably dives into a pacey shouty off-beat noisy rocky mash-up. They're like a Hot Club de Paris minus the clean indie – it's a speedy ever-changing distorted rollercoaster with an interchanging male/female vocal that demands your attention from start to finish; one lapse in concentration and you'll be reaching for your Ordinance Survey.

Despite losing their label, I think they've come a long way; I was particularly unimpressed with their earlier releases. But there is some promise here, as you'd hope with seventeen tracks. It's like Kele realised he fucked up with his synth crusade and chose to make some fast noise.

An intricate lo-fi blur that requires a listen if you stretched your ears when you were sixteen and still have them in at the age of twenty-three, and still confidently don a trucker cap. My stand-out tracks are a couple of slower ones which don't necessarily speak for the whole album – but Jess, You Got Yr Song, So Leave and 200x.

Thom Curtis

 

Squarehead – Yeah Nothing (Richter Collective)

A surf-pop-punk rock-n-roll trio from Ireland; with tunes deeply rooted in their parents' music collections. With vocal woo-fests to rival the Beach Boys and pleasant Summery tunes to rival just about everything that came out of the sixties; this is a delightfully nostalgic and upbeat album. A glimpse back to when tuneful vocals weren't particularly relevant, so long as you could comfortably shake from side to side to it. And that is something you certainly can do, there's even a track called I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and it was only once it had finished that I worked out this wasn't a Beatles cover at all. So go ahead and immerse yourself in this strangely exciting album – starting with Midnight Enchilada, Mother Nature, and Confident Girls.

Thom Curtis

 

The Sunshine Factory – Sugar

A gothic feel to the opening of The Sunshine Factory's latest album Sugar, church bells ringing in the distance, before the song 'Down' explodes into life with those long sustained guitars, driving beat and breezy ghost-like vocals, harmonies buried beneath a wall of noise …. well, who doesn't like a bit of shoegaze? In the dictionary of music you'd have to file words like 'cacophony', 'euphoric, 'crescendo', 'stratospheric' under this genre, which is hardly shoe gazing is it really? Reminds me of that famous quote by Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars!” Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine gave the genre its whirlwind birth in the 80s, refined and polished in the 90s by the so-called 'Thames Valley' bands, like Slowdive, Ride, Chapterhouse and Catherine Wheel, while more recently it's been taken in different directions, Aesobi Seksu whisking it into an ethereal kind of dreampop, while others like A Place To Bury Strangers have given it a more immediate harder edge.

But shoegaze has never regained its initial popularity, the genre's fortunes strangely mirroring those of grunge in the 90s, pushed to the margins of indie rock. Possibly weighed down by its own drug and noise excesses, and euphoria by its nature is only ever short-lived. My Bloody Valentine played so loud they literally shook buildings, and the ruckus caused by all the noise and distortion Jesus & Mary Chain made is legendary. A bit of a 'circus' it became, so hands up for a shoegaze revival? The Sunshine Factory from Mobile, Alabama, make a strong case for it on Sugar, guitarist and singer Ian Taylor now joined by bassist Sally Robertson and Matthew Hendrich on drums, with maestro producer and arranger Robert Daniel Taylor bringing the whole thing together with amazing production on their latest release, out on Saint Marie Records.

There are a range of influences here, some obvious but some less so. The overall sound of Sugar owes a lot to My Bloody Valentine, but Taylor and his band have made the songs sound so easy on the ear, they're taking us on a gentle nostalgia trip with lots of other influences among the general cacophony: the guitar distortion on 'Smile' reminds me of The Boo Radley's odd first album in 1992 Everything's Alright Forever before they discovered pop, and the introduction to 'Domino' could easily be Ride in their 1994 Carnival Of Light heyday (or should that be Oasis, there's also an element of Gallagher's high sustain on this album?).

To be fair to the band though, there's a lot more going on here; in fact, the album's 2 'sweeteners' (Oops! Awful pun!) 'Sugar Sister' and 'Sugar Cane' are both interesting, the viola and melotron of the former giving it a sound like 'Sally Cinamon' from the Stone Roses first album, a modern-day take on psychedelia, while the other has an epic quality, a 6-minute pop song, the siren-like guitar crescendo underscored with some nice touches of electronica. Taylor's vocals rise above all the noise on Sugar and he's well supported by bassist Robertson. 'Twisted & Cover' groans quite beautifully and is cut into pieces with angular and needling guitar, while 'My Bon Ami' shows the bands gentler side, a beautiful ballad giving us a breather from the maelstrom … album closer 'Head In The Tombs' ends with some eery eastern chanting as the gothic flavour goes around and comes around.

A giant leap for mankind? Well, hardly, but shoegaze has come a long way and some of us feel it still has a way to go. I wouldn't like to think of Slowdive's 'Blue Skied An' Clear' and 'Rutti' being consigned to musical history. Sugar sees The Sunshine Factory extending the genre in some interesting directions, keeping its energy and excitement but adding some nice touches of modern-day psychedelia and noisepop. Not limiting themselves to one genre is probably the best way to go. Whatever your views on shoegaze, there's definitely a lot to admire (even enjoy!) here, give it a few listens you might even grow to love it.

Matthew Haddrill

 

Dan Sartain – Too Tough To Live

Packing a punch, as ever, Dan Sartain’s latest effort has an immediate impact. The album blurts and blasts Nam Vet as its opener followed by a catchy shout-a-long Now Now Now. Ten other stamping tunes, and less than twenty minutes later, the album comes to a close with In Death; an aptly named ending to an album that is full of life and character. So much character that it is quite necessary to breathe a recovery breath after the last word “Death” is exclaimed.

One gets the impression that as soon as Sartain thinks of an idea for a song he just whips out his electric guitar and portable amp, with high distortion as a default setting, and “blaaaaaa” it’s done. After perhaps a little rearranging he very quickly produces a raw, real and engaging sound. Humour always plays a very prominent part in his albums and some of the songs just beg to be smiled at. “Fuck You” in particular is a one and a half minute teenage rant as to why Fridays, and indeed Saturdays, Sundays and You, are all bad things, to put it lightly. For such a short album, you really do get your money’s worth. And if you listen to the album for free as one such reviewer did, you are a lucky, little devil. 8/10.

Matt Bull

 
 

Nitkowski - Stay In The Home You Love (Function Records)

Three piece Nitkowski return with their second album, the follow up to 2009’s ‘Chauffeurs’. Having toured regularly over the two year period since with critically acclaimed bands such as Pneu, Shield Your Eyes and Bilge Pump the band seem to have channelled their hostile live sound into this latest release.

Instrumental ‘Crisp Crisp Sheets and Bright Bright Sunshine’ opens with ferocious intent, vocals screamed raw astride complex guitar and drum work. The results immediately remind of the heavier side of bands such as Charlottefield, Cat On Form and Oxes. ‘You Alone Have Understood Me’ follows in a similar vein, this time with the addition of spoken words, creating a sinister post- punk feel to proceedings. Each track present appears desperate to escape any musical confines, writhing and struggling relentlessly, before busting loose from their often deceptively submissive openings. Once escaped, and running rampant, most seem determined to never suffer the indignation of further restraint. The one example is ‘Pall Flag And The Bunting Tosser’ which consists of fuzzy electronic soundscapes in stark contrast to the organic nature of the majority of the album.

This is an often harsh and abrasive album that can never be accused of pulling punches. There is certainly a claustrophobic and extremely intensive feel to the album which one leads to a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, listening experience.

Mark Whiffin