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albums - february 2013


   
 

Panda Riot - Northern Automatic Music

The visceral opening bars to 'Only Shallow' from My Bloody Valentine's seminal 1991 Loveless album heralded the shoegaze era of music. Bilinda Butcher's ghost-like vocal gliding through Kevin Shield's crashing guitar with screaming tremolo ushered in a whole new genre of music, spearheaded by many British bands like The Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and Lush. It never really went away; in fact, shoegaze is still very much alive and kicking today. In the week when MBV's website was jammed by people trying to download their latest album (the one that took over 20 years to make!), Chicago-based Panda Riot are preparing to release Northern Automatic Music which takes some of its inspiration from that spirit of wild abandon shown by earlier bands. It's an exciting follow-up to their 2011 ep Far And Near. This ambitious kaleidoscopic piece of work will be released by Texas label Saint Marie Records on 19th February.

Singer and instrumentalist Rebecca Scott has the same dreamlike and gothic qualities in her voice as Liz Frazer of the Cocteau Twins, particularly on the album's featured tracks 'Amanda In Clouds' and 'Black Pyramids'. With songwriting partner guitarist Brian Cook, the former film-makers produce songs which create a rich collage-like effect and display a wide range of sonic influences. Panda Riot have come a long way since the DIY-aesthetic of their 2007 album She Dares All Things, and on their latest they've added a regular drummer Jose Alejandro. His live playing is often looped back into the mix to generate rich new sounds and textures, giving the album a driven feel to it. Standout tracks like 'Serious Radical Girls' are also quite nostalgic, bringing to mind albums like Lush's classic Spooky from 1992, and the psychedelics of The Stone Roses seminal eponymous debut. The heavier sound towards the end of this track eventually gives way a nice echoey piano outro, leaving a real night-time vibe. There's a similar feeling running throughout Northern Automatic Music as the album was often recorded late at night in a disused factory building ... spooky!

The album's title track starts with a nice slither of psychedelically-tinged Strawberry Fields-like Mellotron before breaking into full-blown raw guitar, again redolent of MBV, but then the song switches to electronics and robotic rhythms, all finally iced off with a nice twinkling piano at the end. The bleeding noise and sustain remind me of early Boo Radleys', experiments with the wah-wah pedal on their debut album in 1992 Everything's Alright Forever.

There are also some neat little instrumental seques into other songs which keep the sound fresh and interesting, like 'Golden Age' which begins in silence before building a crescendo of guitar effects which lead into harder-edged 'MTWM Glass'. Later on, 'Encrypted Wilderness' offers up a nice little dreamy electronica interlude with sequencers, something like Ulrich Schnauss's music, before heading off along 'Camden Line', the album's bounding closer.

The band sound as if they've put a lot of themselves into these recordings and sonically Northern Automatic Music is an expansive and dreamy sort of shoegaze, tinged with psychedelic and dreampop. Any rumours of the death of shoegaze were obviously greatly exaggerated, as this week's MBV release shows. Panda Riot in their own creative way have just poured a little more gasoline on this genre's funeral pyre ...

Matthew Haddrill

 

Heidi Talbot - Angels Without Wings

Hard as I try, I can't really drum up much enthusiasm for Heidi Talbot's latest album Angels Without Wings. There's undoubtedly a real quality about the playing of the music, and Talbot herself is turning into a well-schooled songwriter of the folk oeuvre. The problem is it's all a bit too pitch-perfect, and could use a few of the rougher edges of its predecessor, 2010's The Last Star. It's unfortunate that the Irish singer-songwriter originally from County Kildare is being swept along with a plethora of other twee-sounding female singers recently. She's joined on her latest album not only by a band of regulars, but a very long list of guests. It may be great for creating a party atmosphere, not to mention generating some good record label PR, but it all makes for a rather indistinguishable (some would say bland!) studio album.

That's not to say that Heidi Talbot's fifth solo release is bad by any means. The recording sessions took place at Gorbals Sound Studios in Glasgow where Kris Drever and Lau recorded their fabulous contemporary folk albums, and it's produced by Scottish fiddle player and arranger John McCusker (who is also Talbot's husband). Talbot guested on the recordings Drever and McCusker made with Roddy Woomble of Idlewild on 2008's excellent Before The Ruin. Now it's her turn to gather the everybody around, and on Angels Without Wings the musicians certainly produce a pleasingly delicate Celtic sound augmented with bits of American roots music and British folk. The problem is the 'live' feel created by all these stella musicians playing together has been smoothed over by McCuskers silky production.

It needs a few listens to judge the album fairly. Songs like 'Wine And Roses' and 'Dearest Johnny' (shades of Fairport Convention's classic 'Matty Groves' from 1968's Liege & Lief album) sound like folk standards that could have been around for centuries. On the other hand, her duet with Kenny Anderson of King Creosote 'Button Up' is all bright and shiney like a modern-day pop song. But that would be King Creosote then, wouldn't it ...?

So, what's not to like about Angels Without Wings ...? Well, the guest vocalists, for example, are a sword that cuts both ways. While a song like 'The Loneliest' really tugs at the heartstrings, with Talbot's singing accompanied beautifully by the fragile voice of Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow, when Guy Fletcher pops up on 'I'm Not Sorry' you just wonder what on earth he's doing there? The break-up song starts to sound like a relationship counselling session! I suppose if somebody like Mark Knopfler offers to play guitar on your album it's hard to turn them down, but bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien's guest vocal on country-tinged 'When The Roses Come Again' (played with Knopfler), again seems rather necessary. Could it be that all these guests crowd the album out and cramp Talbot's style?

The Irish singer's themes are generally quite sad and melancholic, but this is sometimes at odds with the music. The title track and opener co-written with long-time collaborator Boo Hewerdine is played as a brisk Parisian waltz and Talbot's voice is beautifully clear, but the whole thing seems strangely out of kilter with the sadness of the lyrics:

"You can see them everywhere though you might not know they're there
All at once you will be aware of angels without wings
In the streets and the boulevards ... *and lonely bars
You will find them wherever you are angels without wings
Every time you hear a bell there are cheers at heaven's gate
That's the sound of passing time take your chance it's not too late
And I'll watch over you that's what I was born to do
And when you will love me too angels without wings"

There's something of Eddi Reader's Fairground Attraction in Talbot's work, certainly sad-happy-sad works for me, too. But although the songs on Angels Without Wings remain a bit of a curiosity, it's not one which keeps my interest for very long. Talbot sounds at her best when she hits on a bit of raw emotion. On the meandering ballad 'My Sister The Moon' towards the end of the album, musical backing is stripped back a little, just fiddle and guitar basically, and at last the singer really 'connects' with the story she's telling:
"Tired and tired we'll never wait seasons come and go
love will bloom and strength tonight autumn winds will blow
In the deep blue midnight so constant and so true
I know she'll be there my sister the moon

Well he carries a heavy heart my mind plays tricks on me
if ... I know where she would be
And deep in the night can never come too soon
And I see her again my sister the moon"

You can almost forgive some of the blandness when you're dabbing a tear away like that ... almost! Perversely 'New Cajun Waltz' sounds a bit sacharine and dry until the singer reaches up for the high notes straining slightly. The struggle is worth it as she lets a bit more more emotion into the song. McCusker could have left out the guests on Angels Without Wings and just whittled the songs down to the magical energy Talbot can produce at these moments in her voice.

Of course, nobody will see it this way, I'm sure. The record label will love heaping more and more guests on the album, and musicians will love reproducing this sort of music night after night in their clubs up and down the country. Technically, there's very little wrong with Heidi Talbot's latest album, but although it strikes out in different directions the folk music of Angels Without Wings always ends up in the middle of the road! It's a studied traditional route for Talbot, something like the artist Kate Rusby, but the really exciting parts of the folk genre are surely occupied by artists like Cat Power, Bat For Lashes and Laura Marling, who take a few chances with their voices and have a bit of 'bite' in their songwriting. The schooled songwriter from County Kildare would do better to follow their leads.

Matthew Haddrill

 

Detboi – Sliding Floors (Cheap Thrills)

‘Sliding Floors’ is the second album by Detboi and continues his long-standing relationship with Cheap Thrills.

The beats and basslines are generally dark and dirty with regular hints at the garage scene of ten years ago. However the varied pace at which these beats are provided, and the interweaving melodies and sampled vocals, create an eclectic album. The slice and dice approach to sampling is employed to full effect with often little more than a single line of vocal being repeated astride ever-changing beats. Not afraid to dabble in the ‘whooomph’ and ‘womph’ basslines guaranteed to shake speakers the world over ‘Sliding Floors’ at times feels inspired by the aforementioned garage scene but also by the earlier brooding sounds of trip-hop and the eclectic sampling of artists such as DJ Shadow.

Detboi has succeed in making a truly absorbing album, one which will have you reaching for the repeat album whilst scratching your head trying to recognise the source of many of the sampled vocals.

Mark Whiffin

 

Lorn - Ask The Dust (Ninja Tune)

‘Ask The Dust’ is Lorn’s first album release for Ninja Tune and follows his well-received debut on Brainfeeder three years previously. Instrumental hip-hop as a genre seems to be stockpiling a whole range of excellent reviews lately and ‘Ask The Dust’ seems destined to join these praises.

Dark, deep and at times gloomy, ‘Ask The Dust’ treads a very different path from recent releases by his old label mates such as Flying Lotus and Teebs. Opening track ‘Mercy’ is surely named after the pleas heard from the barely present melodies whilst being squeezed and constricted by domineering beats and overbearing basslines. Stand-out track ‘Diamond’ lightens the mood briefly, a beacon of hope and positivity enveloped by the claustrophobic nature of its surrounding tracks. Each track is densely layered with the greatest of detail and is certainly shy in revealing all of its secrets on a first date, instead rewarding the patient listener.

Sometimes menacing, occasionally optimistic but (nearly) always captivating, ‘ask The Dust’ is another strong release for both artist and record label alike.

Mark Whiffin

 

Kontiki Suite – On Sunset Lake

Hailing from the Lake District, this psych-country outfit have a lot to offer those who are wishing to rid some winter blues. Their debut, On Sunset Lake, has a nice variety of sounds and harmonies, daring to mix things up occasionally, with an apparent collection of influences. See You In The Morning, their second track introduces Beatles/Young/Wayne Coyne psychedelia. I must say however that despite their variety, it fails to make a lasting impression on me. That is until the second half of the album, which is a lot more bluesy and groovy. She Gets High finally throws in a sweet electric guitar, which would not be lost in a Black Keys record, and provides a surprising injection of energy. Although not as common as one would perhaps like, we experience a great deal of musicianship and ambition with their penultimate record, Magic Carpet Ride. They released this as an e.p. and it is easy to see why; an eight and a half minute long enigmatic and exciting journey. The album as a whole is certainly worth a listen. Konitiki Suite are great musicians and you can imagine them enjoying the happiness that they evoke in some of their songs as they recorded this. Don’t expect to be blown away, but for a debut, country record, it’s very respectable indeed.

Matt Bull

 

Jashwah Moses - 'No War On Earth' (Sugarshack)

I haven't listened to much reggae recently and this turned up just as I was about to go searching round Youtube for some of those 70s and 80s tracks I can always get something from hearing again. Jashwah Moses is a Roots traditionalist, including Rasta themes and some eloquently sung social commentary amidst the drum and bass one drop that, while it's taken at a slower pace than much of present day Jamaican music, is a style that has kept the power and even mystery that make some of the performers Jashwah Moses can quote as influences - Culture, Burning Spear, The Mighty Diamonds and many others - as listenable and relevant today as they were almost forty years ago. Each track is in vocal and dub form, and aficianados of the work of Lee Perry, Mad Professor, Jammy and those other Kingston producers whose names often outshone their vocalists and musicians will find plenty worth listening to, as the songs are given some deep remixing. Plenty going on in the electronics department too, with tracks like 'Steel' and 'Power Hungry People' giving a nod towards Zion Train, probably the best UK reggae band ever and where do you ever hear of them nowadays? It's maybe true that roots reggae nowadays has less of an audience than it did up until the mid 90s or thereabouts, but that shouldn't stop anyone getting what they can from music of this quality, and performers such as Jashwah Moses are going a long way towards putting it back into the popularity it once enjoyed. Any reggae buff will appreciate adding 'No War On Earth' to their collection and, with new music such as this appearing, it does seem that the days of reggae finding its wider audience are set to return.

JG

 

Suzi Chunk - 'Girl From The Neck Down' (State Records)

This confused me a bit. I got about 40 seconds into first track 'For The Millionth Time' and couldn't avoid noticing a very strong resemblance to Stevie Wonder's 'Signed Sealed Delivered', heck it even sounds like it was recorded in 1970. Sampling or reissue? I noticed that it's released on the State label, which further baffled me for several more seconds until I remembered that the well regarded soul label Stateside has a longer name. One of a number of performers dedicated to replicating Mod stylings right down to the last hairgrip (or trouser crease), Suzi Chunk's note perfect performance is reccomendable for that alone, aside from the fact that Ms Chunk brings it on like a significantly groovier Sandie Shaw and would've been a huge star had she been born in the 1940s.

There's undoubtedly a lot of time, care and effort going into albums such as this but I always wonder if anyone hearing this might find themselves putting it aside and just sticking on their collections of Motown classics and Northern Soul compliations for a more authentic Whisky A Go Go experience, although I don't doubt for one moment that Suzi Chunks live shows are very worthwhile experiences, where very well dressed scenesters can recreate the mid 60s with what is looking and sounding like spectacular degrees of accuracy, and your Quadrophenia theme party will benefit greatly from Suzi Chunks audio or even personal appearance. It's enough to make me want to buy a tonic suit, loafers, and a parka and start saying things like 'fab', 'gear' and 'when are we getting a colour telly?'

JG

 

The Mary Onettes - 'Hit The Waves' (Labrador)

The third album in thirteen years from one of Sweden's most notable groups of perfectionists, or do their day jobs get in the way? Whatever the reason, taking around five years to write and record their newest release has provided The Mary Onettes with a useful publicity hook, and prevents scribes such as myself from opening their reviews with comments about Swedish bands obsession with puppetry (throwing in unnecessary references to Sad Day For Puppets, Swedish band of the year 2009 isn't really good enough). Anyhow, coming on as they do like a Scandinavian The Drums / Foster The People / Surfer Blood, The Mary Onettes could've formed last year, such is their refreshing take on beach party synth pop, one that's relentlessly easy on the ear in a 'playing not too loud in a clothes shop' sort of way. Then they reveal the debt all those bands whom they're sharing cues with owe to Steely Dan - the majestic 'Blues' is exactly the kind of song Donald Fagen is revered for, a deceptively throwaway summer night anthem that the Mary Onettes might've spent a year or more perfecting and in their capable hands it takes on a timeless quality that passes beyond retro comparisons, sounding as contemporary as any other band you'll want to hear again six months from now. 'Can't Stop The Aching' with its chorused guitar intro is a song that's at least the equal of its smoothly reverberating production, and if 'Don't Forget To Forget' stirs memories of A-Ha, then you'll require to put your cynicism on hold to really appreciate what The Mary Onettes are presenting us with. Perhaps it'll take more than one hearing to get the idea behind well received single 'Evil Coast', and it's possible these Swedes are keeping the darker sides of their imaginations mainly hidden from us, certainly it's an incongruous title for a lushly played melody that vaguely stirs Beach Boys comparisons, but it's quite possible to just play and appreciate 'Hit The Waves' in its entirety without caring too much about who or where or when it originated from, and you'll almost inevitably want to play it repeatedly, wherever you're holidaying this summer.

JG

 

Thee Faction – Singing Down The Government

What a curious mix of things Thee Faction are: playing fired-up R&B like Dr Feelgood or Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, their music is combined with some old-fashioned left-wing politics, a curious sort of soapbox nostalgia, and with their website, quite a cartoon-like quality, curious in this era of Post-Blair socialist meltdown and globalisation. Are they a band out of time … or a band just having a good time, before closing time?!? They seem serious enough when they announce a 12-point plan to bring down capitalism at the beginning of their sophomore album Singing Down The Government, hot on the heels of last year's debut Up The Workers! Each song on their latest is 'introduced' with a series of 'steps' invoking the ideas of Guild Socialism by Fabian G.D.H. Cole, no less. When asked why he joined the movement, after reading William Morris's famous novel 'News From Nowhere' Cole famously commented:

“I became a Socialist because, as soon as the case for a society of equals, set free from the twin evils of riches and poverty, mastership and subjection, was put to me, I knew that to be the only kind of society that could be consistent with human decency and fellowship and that in no other society could I have the right to be content.”

Indeed, some of us are old enough to remember when socialism was such a noble idea, swords into plough shares, universal suffrage, Trades Unionism and all that stuff forged in the white heat of Harold Wilson's revolution … mm?

But an album starting with a plea from the band's leader and rhythm guitarist Babyface to "Organize Properly: get a load of people together have a meeting agree a strategy. There's strength in unity."? Happily, to sweeten the doctrine and make sure the message sticks there are some pretty lively songs here also, a real sort of punk-blues infusion with rousing choruses. 'Let's Have A Meeting' quickly gives way to the more incendiary 'Soapbox', Billy Brentford (or is that Reeves … he keeps changing his name?) positively belting it out "I ain't gonna get on my soapbox … until we're free!”. There's also a raunchy blues guitar break, courtesy of their regular axe and veteran session musician, otherwise known as 'Nylon', something akin to the way Steve Jones made his guitar sing on the early Pistols records. These guys are jamming hard until closing time, at least, with a nice tight rhythm section powering the song along. And the rest of the album plays out in the same way. 'The Sausage Machine' is probably the de factor title track for the album (“taking the government down one song at a time ...”), with a fiery horn section and rousing chorus and guitar exit. On their website the band say it's an attack on Mumford & Sons and so-called "Rock Camerons":

“You’ll never be clean of the sausage machine/While you preen in jeans about how mean your girlfriend’s been/You should be bringing down the government one song at a time”

Then there's 'Responsible' with the wonderfully over-the-top chorus which is hard not to singalong to, and a little rap in the middle with what sounds like Richard Archer of Hard-Fi singing along. Thee Faction's music isn't doing anything radical or revolutionary, but it's pushing all those hi-octane rock'n'roll buttons with some powerful hooks to agitate along to. And if 'Fun To Agitate' does sound a bit like Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell speeded-up, or camp-metal The Rocky Horror Picture Show, before somebody cries 'Scab', perhaps that's the whole point here: expect somebody to buy the rights to the West End musical Singing Down The Government.

Kassandra Krossing's vocal on the actual title track slows things down a touch, sounding more twee and like The Beautiful South, but 'The Kids', a cover of an Andrew Paul Regan song, is very much jumping out of the blocks again and sounds very Sham 69 (with a diatribe about clinging to the corporate ladder, reeling off of list of the worst offenders “… BAE Systems, Exxon-Mobil … it's your debt, our sweat!”), or musical shades of those great class betrayers The Who, of course! The album ends powerfully with another change of pace 'Tired Of Capital', followed by 'Union Man/Proletarian Man', all Staxy like mid-period Stones or Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.
“Brothers and sisters looked out for me/They Paid my rent when I had my injury/Don’t let the man victimise us/Don’t let the right-wing press demonise us”

If 80s Redskins met Gorillaz, crossed wires with Billy Bragg and/or Paul Weller and then jazzed things up with Wilco Johnson lurking around in the background, they'd probably sound something like Thee Faction. It's too much the nostalgia-clinging cartoon world for me, with little relation to the realities of our increasingly globalized and electronically atomized world. Oops, taking it too seriously, as usual! Some people need the past to cling to, this is a band curiously out of step with history that remind me of that great black post-communist German comedy in 2003 'Goodbye Lenin' where they tried to freeze history and create a nostalgic make-believe. The left is surely more enlightened, but give these guys their due, if you're gonna go down then go down playing some stonking blues tunes!

Matthew Haddrill

 

Father Murphy - Anyway Your Children Will Deny It (Remix Series) (Aagoo Records)

Remix LP from Italian psychedelic pop trio.

Like much remixing work, the best bits are generally thrown away and the track instead takes on a completely , rather indulgent form. Sadly nothing on this album is worth noting apart from EMA’s tweaking of “Don’t Let Yourself Be Hurt This Time” and even that comes with the most hesitant of recommendations. Dull, minimal, pretentious and repetitious. These terms have been used to described some of the greatest records ever released. This isn’t one of them though.

The most interesting thing about this is the conception of the formatting - Each remix is available on individual 7-inches and has been generally available on the band’s merch tables whilst on tour. This a more interesting way to collect tunes, in an age where the notion of music in the physical form has never been under a more sustained attack. For the more cynical amongst you, the formatting allows you to sift out the dross (almost all of it actually) without having to go as far as buying the actual LP. 1/10

Rory Mac

 

Humanfly - Awesome Science (Brew)

This Leeds four-piece have plodded down their own particular furrow for nigh on twelve years. The tunes come with the word progressive written on the tin, but like so much contemporary prog, their sound shares similarities with other bands that coast in, or along the edge of, the nu-prog tag. Therefore, it takes on a prog/metal tinge rather than the glorious technicolour trouser-genuinely inventive prog from back in the 70’s. So, in some aspects, they are like a heavier, but more restrained Flower Kings, but probably the closest similarities could be drawn with fellow northerners Amplifier - a moderately heavy stadium riffing style with plenty of twisting signatures.

Opening track “Golden Arrows” starts in a laid back Sabbath vein before twisting onto a funky psych wigout. There’s some quite impressive, no-nonsense drummage from sticksman Dave Jones, and big chest-beating riffy stuff from Sutcliffe brothers John and Andy. “The Armour of Science”, at fourteen minutes long, is the ”biggie”, essentially consisting of two bits; a heavy Deftones-lite section that doesn’t convince, later falling into a Pink Floyd space jam that doesn’t really satisfy the parts that other music does either.

There are no issues with the musicianship, but plenty with the general lack of imagination on display, in both the pedestrian production and the lack of ability by the band to write interesting extensions to basic ideas. The do remind you of other bands - and you are frankly left wanting to listen to them instead. 4/10

Rory Mac

 

Delphic – Collections

Initial response to Delphic's Collections has been rather tepid, to say the least, a consensus that the Stockport band have failed to clearly re-define themselves since the commercial and critical success of their debut album Acolyte in 2010. The criticism seems a bit harsh: although their sophomore doesn't break any new ground in the alternative dance genre, it's still a pretty solid electro-pop album. The 3-piece have slowed the Madchester indie-dance anthems down and added some fat bass and chunky electronic beats, courtesy of production team Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club's last album) and Tim Goldsworthy (co-founder of DFA Records with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy), lending the album a more soulful feel than its predecessor. The music is still centred around Matt Cocksedge's funk-driven guitar playing and Richard Boardman's electronic instrumentalism, but with James Cook's powerful and distinct vocal style the band are trying out new things and weaving a richer tapestry into their sound. It includes the electro-funk and hip-hop influences mentioned a lot in all the pre-release press, but Collections also contains elements of ethnic and world musics. It's a mix of styles and delivered with a Muse-style sense of pomp and grandeur, and while I'm sure they'll have to field accusations of blandness, particularly on the production side, Delphic's 'difficult' second album is worth perservering with.

At least they're not tied down by the weight of expectations this time. With all the hype surrounding Acolyte, it was essentially an homage to the British electronic scene in the 90s, particularly the Manchester band New Order and their label, Tony Wilson's Factory Records (chronicled very well in Michael Winterbottom's classic 2002 film '24 Hour Party People'), who along with bands like Orbital and The Chemical Brothers had such a pivotal influence on indie-dance music in Britain at the time. Songs like 'Doubt' and 'Counterpoint' from Delphic's debut had so much fizz and energy in them you didn't mind that they were essentially re-hashing music of that era. It does all sound, in retrospect, a bit too close for comfort to New Order's classic 1989 album Technique, but the sound became so omnipresent it spawned a whole host of worthy torchbearers in the noughties, notably Passion Pit and Friendly Fires. While those bands seem to have refined and extended their pristine electronic sound and disco-driven beats, in their own follow-up Delphic seem restless for something broader in scope and ambition, a more 'global' musical vision.

Collections still isn't a million miles from their home. Factory's legacy is much wider than its founding bands; it's famous club The Hacienda celebrated dance music from all over the world (the Fac Dance compilations of b-sides and re-mixes by its DJ's released last year is an excellent place to start an investigation!). In some small way, Delphic have also drawn from this mix of styles and influences on their latest album. There's nothing New Order about album opener 'Of The Young', nor current single 'Baiya', which are perhaps closer to the first album than the rest, but these indie-dance songs are each delivered with Cook's new-found soulful style of singing and a bigger worldly musical backdrop. In kind, they're closer to 'Good Life' the single last year that was used as the band's contribution to the olympics.

'Changes' is our first exposure to the band's new big beats and thicker bass sound, and Cook's warm falsetto which graces some of the other tracks on Collections, like sunny-sounding beatbox-driven 'Atlas' and hip-hop infused 'Exotic' which closes the album, the singer accompanied with a rap artist. There are nice keyboard flourishes all the way through the band's new music, added to chanting, atmospheric echoey production sounds and various drum-loop and chiming effects; they all take your mind off in different directions behind the big beats. A song like 'Freedom Found' at first sounds rather ordinary, but gradually blossoms with repeat listens, slinkiness laced with 'shots' of Cocksedge's Chic-style guitar and orchestrations providing the backing to Cook's crescendo vocal, which adds some real zest to the song at the end.

The odd highlight of the album is 'Tears Before Bedtime', a collection of sad voicemails set to an ambient piano and Cook's beautifully sad falsetto with an angelic-sounding choir in the background. It's a break-up song, heart-rending in a similar way to Drake's story on the song 'Marvin's Room', as the vocalist's lines are 'shadowed' by the woman's voiced retorts:

"Falling through the night, the silouetted stars ...
Do you have a name for being in this meaningless planet?
This conversation's going nowhere!"

If Daft Punk had written electro-funk 'Memeo', I'm sure they wouldn't have attracted so much flak, and 'Don't Let The Dreamers Take You Away' is all sun-kissed like MGMT's surf tune 'Siberian Breaks', which was similarly panned by the critics. Album closer 'Exotic' does sound a bit funk-lite compared with last year's sumptuous Channel Orange by Frank Ocean, but on Collections Delphic are putting it all out there, ready no doubt for the NME-driven backlash!

The album has taken a few years to put together and sounds a bit too thought out. It's complex and ambitious in much the same preposterous way as each successive release by Muse. Possibly Collections draws from too many diverse sources, and there's always the danger of subtlety being lost in all the layering of its sounds. Slower than Acolyte, Delphic have substituted sharp electronic dance music for a more laidback approach: fat funky beats and world music flavouring. Dig a little deeper and you'll find a diverse collection of pop songs and some really stirring vocals from James Cook. Despite all the media criticism, Delphic will live to fight another day and move on to even more exciting things. Many more dragons for Apollo to slay!

Matthew Haddrill

 

The Great Malarkey – Badly Stuffed Animals

The Great Malarkey's lively debut Badly Stuffed Animals combines some hi-energy punk with more traditional folk and gypsy music, in the same way as bands like The Pogues and Gogol Bordello. Throwing in a bit of ska and riotous Balkans music for good measure, shades of Mano Negra from the distant past, altogether you've got quite an incendiary mix of stuff. For a party, it would be like drinking some kind of potent coctail or punch, this is music that packs a similar kick and you're not quite sure where life's headed afterwards … there's not a little of the early spikiness of Michelle Shocked in the band's singer Alex Ware, particularly in opener 'Moneybags' and the single 'Merry Profits'. Music, band and singer evoke a little of the wild gypsy spirit of Emir Kusturica's early films and the music of Fanfar Ciocarlia.

Elsewhere, the album spins on different themes, a little of the Liza Minnelli and “Life is a cabaret, my friend”, the various changes of tempo and structure keeping everything alive and fresh. There's more upbeat stuff on songs like 'Hold Me Back' or 'Poor Against Poor', with nice bits of trumpet surely Boban Markovic and his famous Serb Horns 'Orkestar' would be proud of, but Ware and the band tone it down on slower numbers 'The Game Is Rigged', more bit like Tom Waits on Swordfishtrombones and some jazzy Grappelli-influenced drunken ramble 'A Whiskey Too Far':

The band show a depth and range in their musicianship, with elements of good-time folk, traditional jigs and sea shanties, blended with the other styles, but the common factor is that the feet never stay still very long. There's a seedy downtown social underbelly described on the Waitsian macabre 'Buckets Of Blood' and the weird and wonderful 'Ha Ha Freak'. The former is full-on gypsy punk, while the latter slows it down once more, this time with a banjo intro very like The Pogues 'Dirty Old Town', to tell a story of freaks, bastards and brawlers all coming to town:

“You can't fight tragedy, you can't clothe despair
you can't dance to disaster with wonderful hair
you can't know how it feels to be a disgrace
with gloves on your hand and a painted face
have you once felt alone by the kick of pain
you sicken me with your lies and deceit
you really are a lowly freak

It's like an old movie as the action keeps rolling, so ska and rock-steady influences feed in on 'Badman', while 'Poor Against Poor' sees the band fighting their way back from a brief lull with some more spirited gypsy-punk.

The port of London has always been a gateway for different cultures, and the traditional East End reflects this great ethnic melting pot. The latest influx of Eastern Europeans will only have added a whiskey chaser to the whole mix. The Great Malarkey are weaving some kind of Brechtian musical fantasy in this collection of songs. There's no phoney Dick Van Dyke lovable cockney about the bastards and brawlers on Badly Stuffed Animals, rather a riotous mix of music with the same barnstorming qualities as the early stuff by The Pogues. But elements of tradition are also infused with something vibrant and international as they sign off gently, glasses raised for the last time on 'Cheers'. Badly Stuffed Animals was a great night out ... we'll pick up the pieces tomorrow, right now it's time to get caught up again in that raw moment!

Matthew Haddrill

 

The Blackout - Start The Party (Cooking Vinyl)

"It's about positivity, moving on and getting on with life," says co-vocalist of The Blackout, Sean Smith. Whilst this sentiment is quite apt for this record, you’re left with the feeling that this “party starter” was written for anybody who has ever said YOLO (ironically, of course), with ‘whoa oh-oh oooh’ being the order of the day here. Whoa oh-oh oooh.

In Start The Party, The Blackout have constructed absolutely nothing that you haven’t heard before. There’s a selling point. However, that’s perhaps the charm of this bouncy, high-octane half hour slab of Ibiza influenced Great British rock. It’s jam packed with bouncy riffs (sorry, I feel a whoa oh-oh oooh coming on. Phew, that’s better), and chaotic, yet memorable, dual vocal hooks loaded with enough pop-punk harmonic positivity to keep fans of Lostprophets interested until, well, y’know. Err…

Complete with a ‘WHAAASSSSSSUUUUUPP’ reference from a certain late 90s lager advertising campaign, the title track to Start The Party kicks off frantically (maybe that should read formulaically) with an overdriven stop/start guitar riff and punchy sounding drums, and well, 30 minutes, 10 tracks, and a few gang-vocal moments later, it’s more of the same. It should be noted that whilst Radio possesses more trendy vocal ‘woooah-ing’ (this time over cow-bell), Let Me Go has an outrageously likable chorus, which is testament to The Blackout’s proven ability to write a solid rock tune. Keep Singing shows the band at their most Kids In Glass Houses like, whilst the album’s brief rest bite in the acoustic ballad, You, will have teenage girls singing back at them in venues across the country this year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to Andrew W.K. He started the party a long time a go.

Lee Swinford