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albums - jan 2012


   
 

Captain Mantell - Ground Lift (Irma Records)

This is the latest offering from Italian dark space-pop trio Captain Mantell; where the word space is latched onto pop due to the almost entirely synthesised backing track. The drums are the real deal though - which means some tracks such as “Mr B” and “Simple Entertainment” having a punchy indie Klaxon-esque edge to them. Hadouken! minus the grime. But beyond these tenuous comparisons is an extremely average electro-pop album. The most prominent glaring omission is a bottom line - unless I’ve just broken something this album seems to be void of a notable bass-line. There are more crunchy twinkles than Willy Wonka’s factory but the beast below hasn’t been invited. But once you’ve got over that, you’re left with a listenable album. It lacks the memorable hooks of a Klaxons hit, but maybe it’s not about that. There’s a subtle sense of anger, a punk-like slant on the space-pop genre, so no clap-happy singalongs, and by the end of the album and “Plutonium Love,” there’s almost something Placebo-y going on. The synths aren’t prominent of riffy enough for this to encroach on nu-rave - it’s more about deep synth riffs and wonky twiddles. True, there are a scattering of sequences that would fit into a Pendulum track, but this ain’t for dancing. You could get away with a boogie on the opener “We Need A Fix” which is also my pick of the album. There’s certainly something there, but it’s far catchier, groovier and indeed better than the twelve tracks that follow.

Thom Curtis

 

Various: New Heavy Sounds Vol 2 (Brew)

An assault on the senses, New Heavy Sounds is back to burst your ears and shock your mother, a compilation of some hard hitting bands from around the world.

The collection opens with “Lovers Lovers Lovers” from The Computers, with the gutsy riffage of early Datsuns and generally a slightly toned down Ghost of a Thousand sound. Then comes DZ Deathray’s crunchy noise machine “Rad Solar”, followed by an appearance from Tweak Bird from their 2010 self-titled album. “Lights and Lines” is a crunchy groove-rock track that sits somewhere between DFA1979 and The Vines. And there are still fifteen walls of fuzz to demolish between now and the end of play; sheesh! Mojo Fury have “Deep Fish Tank” featuring on the compilation, a great disjointed rock number, with big bass, great texture, and general nods all round. Although it’s a reasonably heavy track, it still has greater finesse than most of the other tracks on this collection which tend to be a little rough around the edges. Slabdragger’s “Splice The Mainbrace” starts edging toward metal, and whilst the roaring vocals have that death-metal shimmer, the bass-heavy rumbling machine of a track retains enough groove to just steer clear. The Sword’s “Tres Brujas” is a bizarre amalgamation of heavy rock riffs and an almost country-like vocal track - but another of the cleaner tracks in a sea of fuzz. The Blondie-style vocals of Leeds outfit Black Moth soar above rumbling pub-rock riffs in “Spit Out Your Teeth”.

For me personally, I like my music a little more refined and catchy but undoubtedly for fans of noisecoremetalthrashfuzzrock this is seventy-six important minutes, and to those fans I say “get involved.”

 

Thom Curtis

 

Pyramid Vritra - The Story of Marsha Lotus (Stroll On Records)

Somebody will surely write rap's musical family tree, with all its various groups, MC's, artists and offshoots (sorry, no pun intended!) ... that person's a better man than me though! The alternative hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (abbreviated to either 'OFWFKTA' or simply 'Odd Future'), has thrown exciting new rap and hip-hop back under the spotlight in 2011. From Los Angeles, California, the group has spawned a wealth of new music, most notably Tyler The Creator and his album Goblin which received rave reviews for its hard-hitting themed rap and bold production. Another group in the Odd Future fold are Jet Age Of Tomorrow, the partnership of Matt Martians and Hal Williams, whose experiments in sonic exploration takes them into futuristic Afro-funk electronica. Hal in particular has caused a stir with his exciting production work, notably with his own combo Nobody Really Knows (NRK) and solo alias Pyramid Vritra ... I hope you're getting all this, if not then it's back to family tree??

These sort of people are prolific in their output, self-releasing most of their stuff free online, and while the commercialization of rap and hip-hop has inevitably caused splits and conflicts in the genre, Williams is part of the group aiming to take it in exciting new directions. The Story Of Marsha Lotus is actually the third part of a trilogy of unreleased albums, following on from 'Elouise' and 'Elenor' which were self-released through Facebook and suchlike. This one is available through London-based independent Stroll On Records and can also be streamed at the label's website: http://strollonrecords.tumblr.com/

The album has got 'sexual conquest' written all over it, which is the sort of thing you'd expect from a 19-year old black kid from Atlanta, Georgia, but its exciting elements of prog-rock and jazz-funk infused with modern hip-hop influences like Outkast and Eryka Badu, all topped off with an exciting production, make it an enjoyable listen. Williams would probably cast himself in the same mould as N*E*R*D and The Neptunes with their groundbreaking production to support a songwriting craft. The sprawling title track starts like a funk carnival but then disappears into a vortex of sound metamorphising into some kind of wild creature of electronica. In other words, get your headphones on!! There are also some lovely layered effects, drum loops and major beats ... that's all packed into its 15 minutes of sonic exploration.

There are plenty of other treats on the album. Second track 'Enlightenment' fizzes with all kinds of drum sample trickery and even sounds like a Massive Attack trip-hop beat with nerdy Beach Boy production effects and cooing, crazy man! 'Walter Flower's Technicolor Pyramids' is another opus at 18 minutes where he seems to have melded a series of stories and added effects which remind me of Prince at his most off-beat. Williams inhabits a storyteller's fantasy world and changes his voice to suit. There's hard rap for the hardcore, but again it's generally the bold production which stands out. 'Blue Diamonds' must be a nod to Tyler and his Odd Future padres, the only really straight rap song on the album, with a smokin' Neptunes-type production, like Kelis's 'Milkshake' a few years back. 'Surround' is an effortless Afro-funk instrumental, and the album finishes with an untitled track featuring like-minded outsider rapper from Birmingham UK, KC (Kain Chauan).

So The Story Of Marsha Lotus is an experimental hip-hop oddyssey, and possibly won't get the credit it deserves given the nature of things, but expect to hear a lot more from one of rap's most exciting newcomers. If you can't wait, check out more on William's site for Nobody Really Knows (that would be N*R*K I'm guessing?), where the artist has generously posted an album's worth of material to another full-length Pyramid Vritra album due out in the new year, along with information about his other material: http://nobodyreallyknows.com/

Matthew Haddrill

 

Smith & Burrows - Funny Looking Angels

Sounding like a firm of solicitors, Smith & Burrows' Funny Looking Angels is actually a musical partnership between Tom Smith, frontman with British indie band Editors, and Andy Burrows, former drummer with Razorlight whose latest band I Am Arrows have made arguably the best pop album of the year in Sun Comes Up Again. What appears an unlikely pairing makes sense when you match Smith's melancholic and heartfelt (at times despairing) delivery with Burrow's lighter and breezier (some might say, rather twee!) style of singing. That both of them can hold a good tune isn't really in any doubt: Burrows is indirectly credited with many of Razorlight's songs (although Johnny Borrell disputes this!) and has certainly proved himself this year, and Editors' electronica experimental phase seems to be behind them now as their 4th album scheduled for the new year is expected to mark a convincing return to form. But 'Funny Looking Angels' is a peculiar beast, a 'nearly-covers' album of songs which tries to bottle the spirit of Christmas ... confused? Let me try to explain ...

Smith & Burrows remind us there are great songs at this time of year despite all the dross: hymns, carols, American hit-factory schmaltz about snow and reindeers, but also the genuine article, like The Pogues 'Fairytale In New York' or Waitresses classic 'Christmas Wrapping', and best of all, everybody should listen to Squeeze's almost forgotten 1979-released 'Christmas Day' with its witty (mainly British!) references to the best things about the festive period. Smith & Burrows are angling for more of the latter, but Funny Looking Angels ends up as a bit of a curate's egg (Oops! Wrong season!): (sung to the tune of '12 Days Of Christmas') ONE Christmas Carol, ONE classic Christmas song, TWO well known covers, TWO less famous but equally good covers, FOUR originals, ONE instrumental ... and A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE!! Actually, there's no partridge, but plenty of Christmas cheer and it's still good enough to make a great stockingfiller if such things still exist?

'In The Bleak Midwinter' fits Tim Smith and Editors like a warm glove on an icy cold day, but serves more as an intro to current single 'When The Thames Froze', a song where the mood turns from the hard political and economic times that we find ourselves in to the dreams of a better future, capturing the idea of Christmas being a time of hope for humankind, well done boys!

Tell everyone or it will tear you apart
The end of Christmas day, when there is nothing left to say
The years go by so fast, let's hope the next beats the last aaaaaahaaaahaaahaaa "

'As The Snowflakes Fall' is also beautiful, this time with Burrows' vocal giving it a lighter touch, and it's these two songs along with 'This Ain't New Jersey', a throwback to the Springsteen-esque 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' (or more recently Wham's memorable 'Last Christmas'), which are at the heart of the album. It surely begs the question why they only recorded an ep's worth of original material, although the covers can't really be called filler: 'Funny Looking Angels' sounds like one of theirs but is actually by noughties cult pop band Delta from Birmingham, a nod to Smith's musical past in that city. Black's 'Wonderful Life' and Yazoo's 'Only You' need no introductions, but Smith & Burrows have re-worked them, so the former is really stripped down with Smith's paintive voice bleeding into the song, while Burrows adds a wistful falsetto in place of Alison Moyet on the latter. The song 'On And On' has that familiar ring of the Britpop musical landscape about it, but this version strips away all the Longpigs/Hawley fuzz and centres the song on the vocals. 'The Christmas Song' is a rare concession to schmaltz, but contains a lovely duet with Danish singer Agnes Obel which will surely have old Nat King Cole smiling up there on his throne and ... and I've just decided to listen again!

So Smith & Burrows Funny Looking Angels is an odd balancing act, giving us something to sing along to amidst all the "Mary and Joseph, Morcambe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy, Cracker Surprise ..." (from Squeeze's 'Christmas Day' ... have a listen please!). Have they captured the spirit of Christmas ...? Well, perhaps not all the songs on this album will join the ranks of time-honoured classics ... but pass me another glass of mulled wine anyways ... Happy Christmas Everyone!

Matthew Haddrill

 

Lisa Hannigan – Passenger (Piasi Records)

Track one is music for when the cast of Buffy are at The Bronze.
While I didn't want to turn it off, I found it hard to take notice. Breathy female sings about shadows or whatever.

Do I have nothing to say about music anymore? This thought troubles me a lot. It troubles me when I am three tracks into an album and it is all I can do to not play Falling Blocks on my phone.

Maybe this is it. Maybe I'll never appreciate anything again! Maybe I've become so distracted and jaded that I'll never be moved by music. Worse, I may have become so cynical that I can't appreciate things that are pretty and must search for more more more extreme forms of music, ever increasing brutality and rage? What has become of me?

Maybe I've listened to a lot of music and it's harder to excite me. Maybe this album is a bit bland? Maybe I just don't have time for things that are OK anymore? Yes. That is it. Lisa Hannigan is OK. If you like to not have to listen to music you're listening to, you'll like this. No one will hate it, no one will love it. I wouldn't be able to tell you if I heard these songs again.

It gets worse if you really try and listen. You see the cracks. Good Heavens! She mentions places around the world more often than The Red Hot Chili Peppers. If I write anything else about this album, I will sound awfully jaded, sad and mean. I don't want that. It's not fair that my indifference makes me feel like a brute.

Christopher Carney

 

I'm Kingfisher – Arctic (Playground Music)

What is it with Sweden? Where does the ability produce bands or solo artists who seem completely able to master a genre come from? It is uncanny how so many bands seem to have digested the icons of a genre and then produce their own work, which sounds so deft, so adept. I'm Kingfisher has done this with Indie/Folk.

The greatest skill is not sounding contrived or cynical. It may even be that Thomas Denver Jonsson actually means it. So much of my search for new music involves the fast, the hard, the energetic. It also involves music of stillness and beauty. I want to see the sky through a canopy of trees as much as I want to see the floor rush up at me.

I have noticed each track change. I have enjoyed the whole album. It all feels connected. The beauty isn't all bright. Some of the songs suggest fear. What it seems entirely connected to, a part of or entwined in is nature. The outside particularly. As if wind blows from it.

Please listen to this record. You. Especially you.

I have rarely been more aware of how much space there is. All the way from here to there. I feel able to run through it.

Arctic Fox Too Majestic For The Tundra is a better song title than you'll come up with.

I think the last 3 songs are for listening to on their own. There is too much fragility. It made me feel a little drained. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Christopher Carney

 

Suzanne Silver - 'Deadband'

Yet another band from Italy find their way onto my media player, and Suzanne Silver avoid either going for the retro ironies or the post-industrial electronics that seem to characterise a lot of what I've heard from Milan/Turin/Rome recently. What they are is a post-grunge collective whose songs contain sufficient in the way of echoes of late 80s Seattle, interspersed with Math Rock timings and some less than entirely predictable guitar riffs, with songs starting a bit Mudhoney and then veering spectacularly into double timed drumming and some grittily atmospheric keyboard/guitar collisions. There are also some stylistic nods to mid 00s Garagepunk, (notably the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and a jazz spin on one or two of the tracks that only lack a sax break in place of the vocal to alter them into properly modernist bop.

So you'll get the idea there's a lot going on with Suzanne Silver, and while their enthusiastic genre collages might put off as many listeners as they attract, it's impossible to deny their grasp of instrumentation or their ability to rock it out full on in between the xylophone breaks and noir-ish minor chordage. 'Deadband' has undeniably got something going for it and actually sounds quite lively, most of the time.
www.suzannesilver.com

JG

 

The Michael Giles Mad Band - 'In The Moment'

Entirely improvised pieces performed (I assume in the studio) by the four piece Mad Band, which is led by former King Crimson drummer Michael Giles and includes modern composer Keith Tippett on piano, the 14 tracks on 'In The Moment' are a diverse and occasionally spectacular sequence of spontaneous experiments in sound. 'The only idea is to have no ideas' says the band manifesto and while it's probably somehow disingenuous to read musicians of these talent dstancing themselves from their own work, there's a definitely haphazard element at work in all of the tracks on 'In The Moment', and some near bewildering soundscapes that will remove any preconceptions you might have about what improvised music is and what it's supposed to sound like.

Opening track 'Grand Graffiti' is a superficially chaotic percussion-led piece, suddenly broken up into a rhythmic keyboad and sax motif that's just as soon twisted out of shape by some jagged sounding guitar riffs. This provides an cohesive introduction to the album proper, and a very interesting piece of composition it is. Essentially, the Mad Band are inhabiting a very grey area, one which is found between the worlds of modern composition and that of the experimental art/jazz end of the music spectrum where you would find The Birthday Party, Einsturzende Neubaten, Per Ubu and actually King Crimson. As it progresses, 'In The Moment' reveals itself as far more than the atonal and rythmically deconstructed work the word 'improvised' might lead you to expect.
www.madband.com

JG

 

Sonic Youth - Hits Are For Squares (Universal Music)

Re-releases are always good if you find your bank account going into the red. Re-releases are also good if you are an artist that likes picking out your favourite songs of another band and need to make some quick pennies. Having said this, it is difficult to dismiss the diverse influence of Sonic Youth; past, present and future. It would be lying to say that this album isn’t a rather wonderful collection of songs from Sonic Youth’s career displayed neatly into a little package. Popular tracks are included in the selection, notably ‘Superstar’ which featured in the film Juno and the more husky tones of ‘Kool Thing’ and ‘Tuff Gnarl’.

A new little addition though is the song ‘Slow Revolution’ recorded for the original release which is a well-paced rough and ready slither through what can only be described as a punk band performing a brusque ballad. Nonetheless, cash cow making mechanisms are at work by Universal trying to validate the release by saying, ‘OH LOOK. Radiohead chose this one! BUY, BUY, BUY!’ and that makes the re-release rather hard to swallow.

Eloise Quince

 

The Witch and The Robot - Fears of Mountains Part One (Fear of Mountains Recordings)

Definitely not what I was expecting. When you provide someone with an album cover consisting of a demonic teddy bear holding a hammer and knife and hiding behind a gravestone you give a certain first impression. However, instead of the crazed try-hard metal band I was anticipating, I got some gusty Cumbrian folk rock, akin to British Sea Power that is both invigorating and entertaining. Vocals that do not sound dissimilar to Jack White (if he came from Cumbria like this jolly band of ragamuffins) that breathe the record about local surroundings to life. Tracks like ‘The Beagle’ and ‘Fear of Mountains’ have a slight Beatles air about them with little recurring riffs and a fun galloping beat. On the other hand ‘Sea Change’ and ‘Houdini’ have a more freaky feeling – shouting, screaming and cymbal crashing combined with an eerie take on the use of the guitar.

A fun frolic through rural folk; well done Cumbria.

Eloise Quince

 

Kai Fish - Life in Monochrome

Brave, wonderful, heartfelt and crushing. These are just a few of the words that explain the experience you undergo when listening to the debut solo offering from the Mystery Jet’s bassist. Never one to shy from emotion, songs like ‘Erasing the Young’ and debut single ‘Cobalt Cheeks’ pluck gently at the heart strings as they coo and lumber. ‘Hiroshima of the Heart’ is again another poignant journey with lovely harmonies that drift over one another and combine to a stunning effect.

The emotional beauty of this album is probably best explored in the epic that is ‘Solar Plexus of the World’ is crushingly handsome with its stark piano and uplifting crescendo of vocal and instrumental furore. However, it is tracks like this that sit in unadorned contrast to the piano frolics such as the brilliant ‘Secret Garden’ that is playful, yet soothing at the same time due to Fish’s delightfully soft husky vocals. In the same light-hearted vein is the bluesy feeling of ‘Homerton Baby’ that rolls along with stacks attitude and glamour. However, throughout the album I can’t help but feel a slight Jet’s imprint as is seen most clearly in the standalone strums and drum intro of ‘Dig Your Own Well’ which wouldn’t sound out of place on last album ‘Serotonin’. But this is by no meaning a bad thing.

Showing that Fish can spread his very own wings and fly high on his own is a huge achievement and has provided one very beautiful piece of work.

Eloise Quince

 

Joy – Joy (Folkwit)

Although this may be the world’s most inappropriately named record for some time, its depth and haunting beauty should enchant even the stoniest of listening hearts. Named after a ridiculously expensive perfume, Belgian 3-piece manage to create a rich tapestry of sounds and moods combining just their guitars, cello and drums.

The opening tones of ‘Empire’ set the scene perfectly with their melancholic intensity and just a touch of pomp. Much of the vocal is duelly sung male/female by Marc A. Huygens (ex Venus) and Francoise Vidick. If you are looking for references then think Her Name is Calla or an incredibly dark Sneaker Pimps.

I’ve been listening to this pretty solidly for a couple of months and I find it hard to fault it. In fact it gets better with every listen, a record of compete integrity and craft. Joyful though, it isn’t. 9/10
www.joymusic.be

SB

 

DJ Food – The Search Engine (Ninja Tune)

DJ Food is a much cooler nom de plume than Strictly Kev don’t you think? And in the 10 years since Food’s last album release, he has been putting his coolness to good work, fostering a number of EPs packed with sonic ingenuity and retro/futuristic hubris.

For anyone who missed the last few EPs, ‘The Search Engine’ is the perfect purchase, combining the best tracks from the EPs, giving them a quick spruce up with a few alternate versions, and weaving a consistent thread throughout the track list, which at first glance would have seemed impossible. There are notable collaborations with The The’s Matt Johnson on ‘GIANT’ and also Jim Thirlwell on the heaviest album track, the near industrial ‘Prey’. In fact the album as a whole works on quite a heavy level – sure it’s full of playful samples and twinkly loops but it’s underpinned with a steel-like heartbeat of drums and growly bassy sounds. If you really want to treat yourself, why not go for the limited edition 17 track bonus version complete with comic book. 9/10
www.djfood.org

SB

 

Like A Stuntman – YOY

As Bureau B Records proudly say of their band, this is “Eccentric weird folk electro-kraut-melodic indie rock like you never heard before”. This may be true but I do not know of much eccentric weird folk electro-kraut-melodic indie rock to compare this band to. Releasing only their third album in 11 years, Like A Stuntman take pride in crafting their records and this can be recognised throughout. Starting things off, Like A Stuntman play a hypnotic, dark track Symptoms Of The Ocular, and one could be forgiven for suspecting a similarly downbeat, trance-esk parade of tracks to follow. Thankfully (and I say thankfully as I don’t think I’m patient enough to tolerate 40 minutes of subdued hypnosis) track 2 Yesterday Euphoria offers a little more oomph. Dog Show Digest follows, with weird, looping synths, only to be then followed by Ooze Yeah Ooze. This track sounds similar to Everything Everything, dusted with falsetto singing and oozing guitars (an aptly named song apparently).

In fact throughout this record one gets taken on a rollercoaster of melodic peaks, downbeat troughs and frequent corners, where, quite frankly, anything could be thrown at you. That’s the beauty of this record; it fails to be repetitive and does not conform to what is acceptable. It’s a grower certainly but it’s worth the ride.

Matt Bull

 

Marvin B. Naylor – The Stargazer’s Symphonium

After working on this album for three years and receiving critical acclaim from Little Speck Of Blue and Boy Become A Man (two of the stand-out songs of the record), Marvin B. Naylor seems to be delving deeper into the music world. The whole album is an optimistic dream-like tale made for those who like to reminisce or use their imagination. Each song is played on a 12-string guitar and is as unique as it is innocent. “A Flash! Within A Moment” epitomises the child-like concept as it begins with “All is calm, all is bright, on this warm silent night”. There is no denying Marvin’s ambition and talent and if his priority is to paint a picture of peace and capture the beauty of world, as opposed to its anger and violence, it is completely successful.

Matt Bull

 

Attack Attack! - This Means War

Every song title starts with the definite article. I hate that. The first few songs on here sound like the late 90s. The first thing that struck me is that I have heard this album hundreds of times before. It is entirely derivative. When parts with merit turn up, they are too few. The Chorus of The Motivation is The Best Bit of the whole album. Everything else is relentless blast beats and growling, with some melodic parts thrown in only because the hard bits have dragged.

The Wretched is The Seventh Track on this album and it is The First Time that they seem to have got anywhere near to nailing what they are after. What are they after? That thing Enter Shikari have down.

This album fails not because it is terrible, but because it is, in its extremes, so ordinary. It skirts with blandness and absolutely hums of the sort of screamed angst that is tiresome all the time. All The Time. The biggest indictment is that this is extreme music, but it would bore you. I am so bored of this album already. I got bored of it in the late 90s too. I dislike that I have been almost uniformly negative. The album isn't awful, but it isn't good at all. It's super polished when it wants to be brutal, the strongest emotion it elicits is apathy. I really do feel like the above is slightly harsh. It is true, I think it, but it also makes me feel cruel. I think then I could say that this album is, one for fans of the genre... I suppose?

Christopher Carney

 

Dead Wolf Club – Dead Wolf Club

It isn't genres you get tired of, it's repetition. Repetition can sometimes be mistaken for a genre, or worse, a scene.
I don't ever want to be bored by music. I don't ever want you to make me listen to something that makes me dislike music. It harshes my mellow.

I like loud guitars though. I like riffs, I like it when you can really hear the bass. I like frantic drumming, I like feeling frantic. I'd rather go faster than slower, most of the time. I like an eponymous album. I'm partial to well-executed prolonged instrumentals too...just, be careful!

Dead Wolf Club is loud and interesting and I am not bored. I am a little envious, that is good. I am excited, that is better.

Popular music can be clever. Things with depth can appeal to a lot of people. There is nothing wrong with having elements which appeal instantly, so long as there is something behind that. There is nothing wrong with not being the most important band in the world too. I think a lot of people who hear this will like it.
Dead Wolf Club are making loud music that isn't boring, that isn't instantly forgettable. I am very happy to have come across them. That this is their début, bodes well.

On 5 February, they are playing The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. They are exactly the sort of thing that would be brilliant at The Brude. I am going to be there. Then I am going to go and watch the Superbowl.

Christopher Carney

 

Miss Massive Snowflake - 'Like A Book' (North Pole)

'Candlestick Nails' is a sharply played series of guitar riffs remniscent of Tom Verlaine's late 70s heyday, backed with some freaky sounding phased percussion and that partially self destructs during the songs chaotic mid section. 'Look at these modern artists/whose wit can be the darkest' runs the lyric of 'Goldsworthy', a song whose deeply cynical lyric jars uncomfortably against its jangling indie pop melody. Miss Massive Snowflake are trading in juxtaposition, their words and music contradict each other throughout the ten tracks of 'Like A Book'. Sounding as if it was mostly recorded in one take, there's a virulent energy in these songs that provides Miss Massive Snowflake's own barely suppressed frustrations with the impetus they need. A US band from Portland, Oregon (I seem to get a lot of music from there) who've recorded this album in both Portland and also in Italy, this is about as near to an actual Punk album as I think I've heard recently. Correction, call that 'New Wave', as both Miss Massive Snowflake 'Like A Book' could have emerged fully formed all of ... er, how long ago was 1978? ... and found themselves somewhere at the cutting edge of late Seventies music right up there with the aforementioned Television, Magazine, late period Bowie, or perhaps consigned to the 'wrong haircuts' section alongside the Doctors Of Madness and Gloria Mundi. With its nervy instrumentation and defiantly spiteful vocals 'Like A Book' is a flagrant recreation of some of those sounds of the late 70s and Miss Massive Snowflake are to all appearances enjoying themselves hugely, and that's what makes the album a properly credible listening experience. They mean it, man.
www.myspace.com/missmassivesnowflake

JG

 

Tarwater - 'Inside The Ships' (Bureau)

I saw Tarwater, I'm fairly certain (Kreidler were also performing that evening), alongside their fellow German electronicists To Roccoco Rot at a gig in the late 90s. Twelve years later and their eleventh album finds its way onto my stereo. Until now Tarwater were just a dimly recollected name amongst several others from over a decade ago, Eurotronica specialists in creating ambient, subtly configured compositions and 'Inside The Ships' has a lot to recommend it to anyone, with opening track 'Photographed' and its shuffling rhythm establishing the tone of the album, its shuffling rhythm interspersed with slithering guitar interjections, a display of mathematically arranged and purposefully realised electro balladry, with the bass upfront and a telephoned vocal providing some oblique commentary on the role of the subject in camerawork. The tone is subdued, verging upon mellow: Tarwater don't need to overwhelm us, Bernd Jestram and Ronald Lippok compose their music with an emphasis on tonal shading and the overall mood is, there's no getting away from the word, ambient.

Which doesn't mean to say Tarwater are merely bringing us swathes of hypnotic sound, redolent of the smoother end of the 80s electronic pantheon. They might more readily claim OMD rather than Depeche Mode among their first influences but as the album progresses, Tarwater bring too many elements into play for 'Inside The Ships' to merely reiterate the sequenced robotica that electronic music can only too often slide into. Adding acoustic guitars, saxophones, some vivdly performed percussion to Tarwater's own subtly achieved and continually shifting soundscapes plus their downbeat lyrical observations make, eventually, for a quite compelling listen.
www.tarwater.de

JG

 

Snow Patrol - 'Fallen Empires' (Fiction)

They're back, and in a big way, 14 tracks of glossy synth-led stadium sized pomp rock, the actual heirs of Simple Minds, U2, Then Jericho, even Roxy Music if we'll let them. 'Fallen Empires' is one epically performed phones in the air anthem after another, and if that sugests that Snow Patrol have swapped their songwriting abilities for corporate level production values (and they've certainly got those) then it's with some relief that those of you who bought 'Chasing Cars' and 'You're All I Have' will learn that the songs (all 14 of them) are equal to the task the production asks of them.

Of course, not everyone will want to hear 'Fallen Empires' in its glacial, mesmeric entirety. Snow Patrol are here at the absolute pinnacle of their abilities, on every level, even those which a lot of music fans don't often recognise, and the album nearly overwhelms in its glistening, thunderously chiming resonances. Not everyone will want to hear it, but just about everyone will hear at least one track of it by the end of 2012 as it cements its position as the quite probable mainstream rock album of the year. Mixing classic synth pop, abrasive garage rock, symphonic prog and still sounding recognisably like the Snow Patrol you've already heard, it's undeniably their best work to date and, if you're actually a Snow Patrol fan, the greatest album of the 21st century, so far.
www.snowpatrol.com

JG

 
 

Birdeatsbaby - 'Feast Of Hammers'

Their second album, 'Feast Of Hammers' is in every way the continuation of the gloriously deranged and bleakly humourous musical which Birdeatsbaby aren't quite done with composing just yet. A second act, if you will, complete with intros and interludes amid the tales of relationships and lives going helplessly out of control, performed with a mix of barely contained desperation and frenzied near panic as a wife nearly strangles her husband towards the finale of first track 'Love Will Bring You Nothing'. The piano jingles, the violin screeches, but it was only a bad dream after all, and a suitably melodramatic introduction to the Jeremy-Kyle-Scored-By-Tony-Hatch world that Birdeatsbaby know every hidden corner of.

Birdeatsbaby set their sights high. Unafraid of leaving themselves open to accusations of elitism, they write songs which are literate, allegorical, and some of which require a knowledge of classical history to appreciate fully, such as 'Incitatus', which takes its title from the name of the horse which Roman emperor Caligula had elected as a senator, on the grounds that it could speak more sense than his opponents, and the song this ancient anecdote has inspired is probably the album highlight although the actual lyric is, like a lot of Birdeatsbabys songs, a bit obscure, it's togas a go go with a generous dash of vitriol throughout, replete with barbed witticisms and a lot of tuneful shouting. There's much to like about Birdeatsbaby, their gothic musichall style and tales of suburban madness are of a kind that isn't much heard, and their songwriting talents belong on the stages of the West End, let alone the speakeasy cabaret circuit they currently inhabit.
www.birdeatsbaby.co.uk

JG