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albums - june 2012


Anathema - Weather Systems

Anathema have never been a band to shy away from the grandiose. In fact, they positively embrace it. The Liverpudlian doom-mongers haven’t really been doom since the 90s but their epic and overblown qualities remain as prevalent as ever in their new album, Weather Systems.

Unsurprisingly, this record is a natural progression for Anathema as they continue to shift towards the mawkish, employing complex finger pickings and swooning string sections to express their forever earnest outpourings, relying on the trusted distortion pedal less than ever before.

On first listen this behemoth seems to struggle under its own enormity. The songs are excessively bloated, vocals are frequently swapped between male and female singers, layers upon layers of sound are heaped upon each other, song structures seem lost in frantic and noisy crescendos or swapped in favour of maudlin musical monologues that wallow in romantic defeatism. With such choices, Weather Systems could make fans nostalgic for the bite Anathema once had in their early work, or for the giant sing along choruses of their mid-career output.

Yet in Anathema we trust. Or at least we should. These seasoned pros may have an army of loyal fans but thank goodness they’ve never reached the levels of success that meant they could simply phone an album in. Weather Systems is in every way a grower. An enormous, garish, unsubtle grower that is as honest as a record can get. An epic, free spirited record that bares its soul way beyond the boundaries of class or acceptability. Indeed, it takes an uncynical ear and a whole lot of patience to wade through the theatrical embellishments of this record but underneath is a rewarding collection of songs that handsomely rewards those who dare to persevere. 7/10



Sandy Denny - Rendezvous (Deluxe Edition)

Universal are re-issuing Sandy Denny's last 3 solo albums on Island Records in the 70s, each a deluxe 2-cd package with bonus tracks from demos, outtakes and live performances on radio and TV at the time, along with various other bits of memorabilia and sleeve notes supplied by the great rock biographer Patrick Humphries. Rendezvous was the third of these, released in 1977, after Sandy in 1972 and 1974's Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz. They constitute a major body of her work post-Fairport Convention, and today the Sandy Denny legacy is still very much intact thanks to the legions of dedicated supporters who among their number include many modern-day artists taking up the Sandy mantle. The 40 year anniversary since the first of the Island recordings coincided with an homage tour around the UK in May entitled 'The Lady', with both contemporaries of Denny and artists like Thea Gilmore (who recently recorded an album of Denny's lyrics entitled Don't Stop Singing last year), Joan As Policewoman and Green Gartside all paying tribute to this British folk legend who died so tragically in 1978.

The Denny entourage have created something of a 'protective shell' around the fragile artist, sometimes making it difficult to comment honestly about her work without ruffling a few feathers. That said, her last album Rendezvous could never really be described as her best, beset by a background of personal troubles, but also suffering as it does from Trevor Lucas's rather overblown production and bland 70's big rock band sound. It always smacked of some desperate move by the record company to pitch Denny into the mainstream, and therefore the album lacked the integrity and character of her earlier material. Sandy is widely considered to be her best, or even the album prior to that, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens, released in 1971, with its songs about the sea and Denny's heartfelt tribute to Jackson C. Franks. A lot of the inspiration had dried up by 1976, and the voice while still holding up had been battered by drugs and alcohol, so no surprises that Rendezvous features a whole string of covers, unfortunately including the Bernie Taupin-Elton John song 'Candle In The Wind' (a step too far for this particular reviewer, I'm afraid!). Rather than showing off Denny's versatility as a singer, moves like this just distract us from her songwriting abilities not to mention routinely dulling the senses.

The album isn't without merit, however; one of its more interesting features is the trio of songs recorded live with the London Symphony Orchestra and Choir on April 25th 1976 (the album was actually finished the same year in October, but frustratingly Island delayed its release until May 1977). 'I'm A Dreamer', 'No More Sad Refrains', and 'Full Moon', the latter recorded with the fiddle of Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention, are all beautiful recordings. Swarb's playing soars and with Denny's uplifting voice they take the song to a higher plane altogether. This, along with 7-minute opus 'All Our Days', inspired by Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony, also an orchestral collaboration, are standout tracks on the album and certainly worthy of Denny's great canon of work. And there's nothing bland about a singer urging us to put a bet on a horse in Kentucky something irresistible about the way she sings:

I'm a dreamer and you know
I'm a schemer with an eye for a show
It's my imagination whenn I get low
And the truth is I don't think I'll ever go

The Richard Thompson song 'I Wish I Was A Fool For You' which opens the album harks back to the early days of Fairport. It also features Thompson on guitar and again gives us flashes of Sandy's brilliance as a singer, while her own composition 'Take Me Away' also sets the pulse racing. The rest though struggle to get out of the low gears. Does anybody remember what happened in the late 70's … punk rock! QED! The extra CD is probably more for the Sandy completist, although trawl carefully and you'll discover a few 'treasures', like the choral version of 'All Our Days' which is truly heart-stopping, plus the live versions of the Thompson song along with 'No More Sad Refrains', revealing Denny in full flow, surely both a sight and sound to behold!

So interest in Sandy Denny's music never really went away, and with the recent upsurge generated by artists like Thea Gilmore more and more people should discover her music. It's probably crass, unfair and simplistic to say … but c'mon, she's our Emmylou! Her official website is lovingly tendered by loyal fans, but for the uninitiated Rendezvous would in my view be the wrong place to start. Better to listen to one of Denny's earlier solo albums, or even the 1972-released compilation The History Of Fairport Convention, which highlights her crucial role in the early development of the band. If I really can't dissuade you, then try downloading from iTunes some of the gems she recorded with the LSO, along with the Richard Thompson song and 'Take Me Away'.

Matthew Haddrill


AU – Both Lights (Leaf Records)

There are sentences which can strike fear in the heart of a reviewer. “Songs mostly written from jams” is one of them. AU have not lived up to those fears, they have provided me with a very pretty album of coherent songs with varied ideas. That alone is a rare feat. What's more, as well as being very pretty, there is an overwhelming sense of fun, this is an album that is easy to listen to as well as being pretty, it is inventive and beautiful without being tiring. Another thing it seems to be is beautiful while not really particularly melancholy or sad. The successful achievement of this merits further praise.

There is something intensely satisfying about listening to a successful culmination of an adventurous and risky endeavour. I can recommend listening to Both Lights without trepidation, even if it does contain an awful lot of saxophone. A rare time where I am happy to quote without derision phrases from the press release. “AU have never sounded more alive, more vibrant and more human.” The word human seeming particularly apt as the entire album seems to be personal and also compelling, very much an outward call for closeness. To say that there is joy very-much present in the album is admitted hyperbole, but only slightly. I am happy to have heard this and happy to note how much I listened to it while reviewing.

Christopher Carney


Appaloosa - The Worst of Saturday Night

It really doesn't matter what size your band is. It really doesn't matter what type of music you play. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you can actually play, in fact I've often been least impressed by virtuoso dullness. Genuinely interesting music will get you through. Hard work, by the talented will beat everything though. Never mistake having a ton of different instruments for being clever!

I've often found that instrumental music is incredibly hard to create. It can bore so quickly and to have anything not sound like a jam but also not sound like a song that is missing a singer is a feat indeed. I mean a high compliment when I say that Appaloosa can pull off instrumentals.
They also score heavy points for noting that Saturday Night is often a terrible idea. Friday is where it's at (Sunday, Bloody Sunday eh? Lawn to be mown etc etc)

I find myself, happily waiting to have my life changed by music. In the way that Refused and At The Drive-in did, and others before them. I haven't lost faith because that kind of thing is rare, and sometimes happens completely by chance. It is not damning with faint praise to say that I don't mind listening to this album while I wait to have my world changed. Hard work and talent, together as it so rarely is. I'm happy to concede that I imagine this music was hard work, but only because it impresses me. Curse Appaloosa if they just trotted this out by looking at each other.

I feel I should point out that the CD I received was broken so have not had chance to hear the final three tracks on the album. I should only point this out because it doesn't matter. I find this album to be something genuinely fun, while also being musically thoughtful. Thoughtful, here, does not suggest a lack of spontaneity either. Perhaps what I really mean, in the true sense and the sense attributed in my primary school, is Skill.

Christopher Carney


Ghosts – The End

I think if I hadn't just got back from Primavera Sound, I would have thought much less of this band. As it is, I think the first song sounds an awful lot like Hot Chip, who I don't really like and also uses the band's name in the chorus in the first song. I am not a fan of any of that.

It turns out I'm not really into any of this. There is a simplicity to things which just makes me bored rather than instantly engaged. I think I only really use comparisons to other bands when I mean to point out that the comparison itself has been made obvious and is, therefore, unfavourable. So far I feel pretty certain in pointing out that I have noticed that Ghosts have come up short against a couple of bands they seem to be trying very hard to sound like. I will say that they do have a knack of improving some pretty ordinary songs with a good chorus, but that never means that songs are improved enough.

Once again, I feel obliged to point out that a band is not actually terrible, just not good enough and once again I must also point out that I don't think that is good enough.

Hot Chip, The Rapture, New Order, The Pet Shop Boys, The Lightening Seeds... a lot of other indie rock bands with a synth: All these bands exist and for some of them at least, there doesn't really need to be any more examples of that type and very certainly not lesser examples. Please don't misunderstand, I am very much not putting Ghosts in the same esteemed company as some of those bands, I am merely pointing out that I can see who they aren't as good as and who you should probably listen to instead as it would be a much better use of your time. I would like to point out that I have not made any negative use of the song called Underachiever nor brought no negative attention to the last song being called The End.

Christopher Carney


Exit Music – Passage (Secretly Canadian)

Secretly Canadian is a great name for anything. I am glad there is a record label called that. Exit Music is a pretty great name for a band too. I am glad that they haven't wasted it by being terrible.

If I told you that I keep listening to this album while trying to write the review and just sit and listen to it instead, you'll get an idea that it is something special. I have to admit that I am struggling to write this review. I keep wanting to use terms like atmosphere; chilling; beautiful; captivating; powerful and haunting and then I don't want to because they all get used far too often and they no longer really describe anything anymore because it seems you can apply them to everything. I want new words to point out that I feel surrounded by the songs and don't find that oppressive. I want you to know that the sparse guitars and echoing beats and synths send chills where they could sound common place and I want you to listen to them.

Exit Music have managed to provide atmosphere while remaining captivating and deserve to be described as powerful. I am happy to point out that this is an album I will be adding to my collection and happier still to say that I expect to listen to it an awful lot.

Christopher Carney