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albums - may 2013


Peace - In Love

Great band name by the way, no idea why that wasn’t already taken. There’s, t-shirts, a pudding sponsorship, and of course oh so many album titles available: …and Quiet, Five Minutes of…, World…, the late-career desperation of Give Peace a Chance, before the fond farewell of Peace Out - I should work in marketing. Anyhow on that point, having seen the bounteous hype (and the requisite backlash), but yet somehow having managed to avoid engaging with their actual material, it was with equal portions of trepidation and relish that the respectable difference that Peace had thus far maintained from my eardrums, less Berlin wall and more garden-fence, was broken down.

Disappointingly though, the resultant meeting constituted much of the exhaustion and redundancy which underlay the tedious punning which opened this review. For all the plenitude of youthful exuberance in many of their songs, and apparent in their music videos, over the course of a record it becomes increasingly depleted, to the extent that the ultimate end-product is of the par-baked variety.

The hooks and riffage galore that make up their wares are catchy and commendable, but the actual substance of the record – the lyrics and production in particular - are at best cookie-cutter and efficient, and at their worst embody the Delicious EP’s watermelon, excessive sweetness descending into the saccharine and consequently exhausting the possibility for, and failing to achieve, any semblance of engaged emotion beyond a somnambulant foot-tap.

Similarly their songs themselves are referential if not outright derivative, to the extent that listening to the album is just as much, if not more, entertaining if you take it as a kind of aural comparison puzzle game you might play with your friends in Zuckerbergland (other social media networks available).

There’s bountiful Charlatans on display, ‘Toxic’ and ‘Sugarstone’ are all Oasis, ‘Waste of Paint’ has plenty of Blur going on, and I’m pretty certain Foals have a lawsuit when it comes to the intro of ‘Wraith’. On the latter there’s even a point where the synth-line that breaks through (and then drops out just as quickly as it was hinted at), sounds like they’re about segue into a Calvin Harris cover, (which would probably work fine on your next Live Lounge appearance actually - get on it boys).

But, whilst there’s undoubtedly a place for revivalism, and all of these touchstones at the very least make them an easy band for a hack to describe, when it actually comes to the record itself it is clear that any of the edge, any of the appeal, of their forebears and influences has been entirely sandblasted away. Even more so, particularly when so many of those Britpop bands (Suede, Blur, Pulp) have made comebacks of late, and reminded any erstwhile followers of both how it’s done and the flaws of such a sound, Peace’s offerings seem even more substandard.

Perhaps most depressingly of all though, the knife is further twisted when the songs that are missing from the conventional tracklist – ‘Drain’, ‘Scumbag’ for instance – are actually their most impressive efforts, a hundred times more interesting for their spaced out grungy weirdness, and the suspicion is that Columbia might have had more than their fair share of input into their exclusion.

It is with the latter in mind though that Peace actually manages to avoid an outright drubbing. The ability to compose the hypothetical mapping out of their whole career at the top of this review, is entirely symptomatic of their easily identifiable influences and hollow impression they leave in their wake. But the very possibility of such a career is afforded by what they do well, an ear for catchy, energetic grooves, combined with their evident penchant for the more frantic, raucous elements of bands like brief contemporaries, and the now sadly deceased, WU LYF. Hopefully we’ll see some more of the latter next time round.

Christopher Sharpe


Jacques A Robin - 'Statuettes' (Hortus Media)

I was looking forward to this after reading the glowing PR that accompanies the CD, with its descriptions of the multiplicity of instrumentation backing up the Bristol based Italian singer songwriter and no, I haven't been disappointed, far from it. It's just that first track 'The Marble Boy' is a note for note rewrite of Maurice Albert's 70's hit 'Feelings', which is either a heartfelt Euroballad or a load of old loon pants, depending on your level of cynicism. It does make for a slightly awkward introduction to some well performed, laid back and indeed heartfelt verging upon soporific ballads, and Jacques A Robin for some reason sets himself a more difficult task than perhaps he should by so obviously referencing what is still a very well known and recognisable, and definitely memorable tune as that of the first track. Is he a relation of M. Albert? Jacques A Robin certainly wants to tell us something.

Aside from any quibbles regarding the intro, 'Statuettes' is an impressively put together song collection, '7 anatomies of melancholy characters and stories' by its own description, and Jacques A Robin, you realise, is writing in a tradition nearer to that of Jaques Brel than say, Donovan, although he avoids the air of grotesquerie that can afflict some of the more expressive Chansonniers, and his orchestra of backing musicians turn in some near mesmeric performances, the skilfully handled production prevents his voice and guitar from finding themselves swamped in a morass of strings and woodwind, and it all ends a little to soon. Really, this is near perfect dinner date soundtrack music apart from the fact that you'll need to play it twice, and Jacques A Robin would easily find himself a much wider audience should 'Statuettes' find a major label release. Quite up to the legacy of Maurice Albert, at any rate.



Peter Green – The Very Best Of Peter Green Splinter Group

BB King once said that Peter Green was the only guitarist whose playing sent shivers down his spine, and the 3-year period from 1967 to 1970 in which Green led Fleetwood Mac was not only one of the band's most prolific periods but also became pivotal in the development of British blues and folk. He very much resented the fact that their debut in 1968, a no frills blues album, was released as Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, when he had specifically named the band after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie who had joined him from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. When Green left in May 1970 because of drug-related problems and spiralling mental illness, the band had amassed 4 albums, 5 hit singles (including the classic 'Albatross' which he labelled enigmatically "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues"!) and classic rock numbers like 'Black Magic Woman', which Santana would make famous all over the world; in fact, at the time, Fleetwood Mac were outselling the Beatles and The Stones!

Unfortunately, it was all too much for Green who suffered a nervous breakdown and whose behaviour became more and more erratic. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to hospital to undergo electro-convulsive therapy in the early 70s, a decade in which the artist practically withdrew from writing and performing music. He lived with his brother for a while, but ended up homeless and destitute, taking a series of dead-end jobs, finally emerging from obscurity in 1979 with the album 'In The Skies'. Although subsequent public appearances were still very rare, he managed to cobble together a solo career during the next decade partly restoring his musicianship.

However, Green's true musical rehabilitation occurred in the late 90s when he formed the Peter Green Splinter Group with musician friends like Nigel Watson and the drummer the late Cozy Powell. The idea was to celebrate classic blues, in much the same way John Mayall has been doing for the last 50 years or so. The Splinter Group played standards and paid tribute to the masters like Robert Johnson and WC Handy. Songs were jammed or played live together, capturing a rawness in the overall sound throughout the band's brief tenure from 1997 to 2004.

The Very Best Of Peter Green Splinter Group is a snapshot of this period, but the selections on this double CD collection also contains a few of Green's own early compositions. 'The Supernatural' was one of the first songs he recorded with Mayall in 1967, and contains the soulful and lyrical phrasing on his Gibson Les Paul which producer Mike Vernon once referred to as “liquid gold”. The autobiographical 'Man Of The World' was released as a single in 1969, and 'The Green Manalishi' remains a classic today, famously one of the last songs he recorded with Fleetwood Mac in 1970. These fit nicely alongside the classic blues numbers and, whether by accident or design, The Splinter Group became Peter Green's very own tribute band.

This particular collection also features many rock and blues luminaries, like Paul Rogers from Free (and Queen!) who sings on 'Sweet Home Chicago', and blues guitar legend Buddy Guy guesting on 'Crossroad Blues', with a multitude of others on the live recordings, no doubt.

The opening track 'Look On Yonder Wall' reminds us how Status Quo's 30-year career was crafted on little more than an Elmore James blues riff, and The Very Best Of follows this workshop approach, running through all the various styles of the genre. Hubert Sumlin is on hand to offer shattering guitar assistance on the excellent 'Dead Shrimp Blues', 'Underway' ruminates with the spirit of 'Albatross' as Green is joined by Snowy White's atmospheric playing, and BB King protege Otis Rush guests on slow-burning 'Little Queen Of Spades'. Green downplays his singing, but he sounds in fine voice on songs like 'Look Out For Yourself' and 'Don't Walk Away' towards the end of the album.

Peter Green remains a bit of an enigma artistically, and while this latest collection might be a useful way in, there's a way to go to really appreciate the man and his music. Although as Noel Gallagher pointed out in the recent BBC documentary 'Peter Green: Man Of The World', he's a real bluesman, somebody who lived and played the blues, it was the Brian Wilson-like obsession with a much greater musical vision which ultimately cost Green his health and sanity in the 70s. For a flavour of that unbalanced genius, it's worth re-visiting his post-Fleetwood Mac follow-up The End Of The Game in 1970, a sprawling jam session with practically everything crammed into it. For the less ambitious, The Very Best Of Peter Green Splinter Group is still a nice way to sample the delights of the 'Green God' once again!

Matthew Haddrill


Cornershop – Snap Yr Cookie

Cornershop have moved chameleon-like through all sorts of musical styles during their colourful career, combining singer-songwriter and guitarist Tijinder Singh's pop vision with elements of underground, dance and Asian music. Singh formed the band with tamboura player Ben Ayres in 1991, and while certainly not publicity-shy (they famously highlighted and protested Morrissey's flirtations with racist imagery in 1993) or lacking in commercial success (their 1997 breakthrough album When I Was Born For The 7th Time released on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label remains their most successful album and many feel was a defining moment in the whole Britpop movement), they've managed to keep their artistic integrity while exploring new musical horizons.

Singh distanced himself from mainstream label Beggars Banquet in 2009 with the release of retro album Judy Sucked A Lemon For Breakfast on his own Ample Play Records. This was followed by Cornershop And The Double O Groove Of Bubbley Kaur in 2011, Indian dance mixed with club grooves and featuring a relatively unknown Punjabi singer. Last year's Urban Turban continued the dance theme, but this time included a whole roster of collaborators like French disco star SoKo and British-Asian soul diva Amar. The mashed up collection originated as the so-called 'Singhles Club' in which songs were sent exclusively to subscribers via the band's website and label.

Snap Yr Cookies seems to be a logical next step for Cornershop and Ample Play, a select bunch of remixes from its predecessor, or as Singh puts it, "a cookie cut three ways", centred around the chilled-out track the singer recorded with Italian producers Casa Del Mirto on their 2011 album The Nature. They give 'Non-Stop Radio' (from Urban Turban) a bubbly electronic feel, something like Mouse On Mars-meets-Kraftwerk, with the featured singer Celeste now transformed from soul diva into electro-disco star. The track is re-visited throughout the album, Lorenzo Marinelli's mix lending it more of a classic Italo disco feel, while Lorenzo Venturini offers it a fat techno club beat.

'Milkin' It' is speeded up by Cat Cat Cat with an edgy hardcore guitar and 70s new wave sound. The distorted vocals of Light Of Aquarius are still something like PiL or The Fall, but the newer version has a bit more spikiness to it. Casa Del Mirto infuse the same song with new-jack-swing piano and salsa beat. There are 2 other remixes from Urban Turban: east coast USA Second Sky & Thomas Blondet's take on 'Dedicated' substitutes the soul of the album version for disco-royale, while west coast American Tal M Klein's mix of 'Solid Gold' is all big thick rubbery beats and electronica.

Italian-based DJ VideoTape wraps things up with an electro-funk mix of 'Primitive Boogie'. Like the title track, it's more chilled and brings things down nicely at the end of the mix, a sort of Cafe Del Mar finale with electro-harmonized vocals.

Snap Yr Cookies can be obtained from Ample Play as a free download. The release is also accompanied by a streamed version of 'The Hot For May Sound', a "C60 Cassette Collection" of favourite tracks selected by Mikey IQ of the New York record store 'Other Music'. Both releases are available for purchase, too, from the band's website, and the latter can be obtained from California-based Burger Records. People are still having fun with Cornershop's last 3 albums, and the band have bought themselves some extra mileage while they come up with new material.

Matthew Haddrill


Milky Wimpshake – Heart and Soul in the Milky Way

This album actually made me stop listening to music for a while. I hate it. Obvious pun lyrics and what seems to be a debt owed to Jilted John makes Heart and Soul in the Milky Way an album that I would prefer not to have ever listened to.

I was absolutely convinced that the game plan of singing in a soft, mostly atonal voice but being a bit lewd while you did it had been consigned to complete eradication. I am disgusted to discover that this isn't the case. There is nothing of charm or promise here. “Arbitrary rhymes and taking-the piss guitar breaks” are not things to aspire to. Stop this awful awful affront quickly. Every song seems like a wilful exercise in pointing out that the band are really smart and a bit shy. Not a single thing about that kind of shtick is endearing and not a single song on this album is any good. “you need a tea-spoon for your tea” is reason enough to wish to have them removed form existence and memory. A line that references a misspelling of the word weird makes everything even worse. Everything.

Genres very often become a pejorative for those within it, derision heaped upon those who willingly use a particular term to describe their band. Milky Wimpshake are indie-pop and they say so.
I wish they weren't.
I wish they hadn't.
I wish they wouldn't
I pray they don't.

Try and forget that Milky Wimpshake exist.

Christopher Carney


David Grubbs – The Plain Where The Palace Stood

With a multitude of side-projects alongside his own experimental brand of folk music, not to mention the work he has done as a literary critic and academic, the term 'musicologist' seems entirely appropriate for David Grubbs. The Kentucky-born singer-songwriter and guitarist emerged from the illustrious Chicago experimental and improv. scene of the 90s, and is probably best known for his work with Jim O'Rourke in post-rock duo Gastr Del Sol until 1998. While his former partner's subsequent career is well publicized, Grubbs has also notched up an impressive canon of work, largely characterized by an unusual sideways look at music. His guitar playing is oddly charged by the stronger left hand pushing against the fretboard, even though he plays with the right, resulting in an unusual depth of tone. Grubbs will happily play a note and literally hear where it takes him. The recent audio-visual installation 'The Wild Salutation', performed with Turner-nominated artist Angela Bulloch at the Pompidou Centre, is a good case in point. Grubbs is also working on a book about John Cage, whose career in musical experimentation and non-standard uses of instruments has a lot of parallels.

In contrast to all this high art, Drag City are promoting The Plain Where The Palace Stood as a pop album. While there are conventional 'elements' in the recording (11 songs played together with his regular band Andrea Belfi on drums and Stefano Pilia on guitar, joined by guests C. Spencer Yeh on violin and composer Attila Faravelli on other electronic effects), the word 'pop' is a relative term here. Grubbs sings on only 4 of the songs, and the music seems to glide through distinct phases, making it more of a mood piece, like the installation he supported recently.

The meandering instrumental of the title track opens with a sort of wayward sounding avant-garde violin, something like John Cale's playing on the Velvet Underground's classic eponymous debut. 'Super-Adequate' isn't exactly avant-garde, but very post-rock, something like the early bands Grubbs was involved with, Codeine or Bastro. The conventional rock format used on The Plain is essentially a nice springboard for experimentation.

Happily, he hasn't given up on the voice altogether. On the slightly surreal 'I Started To Live When My Barber Died', the words are plain-spoken, in much the same way they would be by somebody like Cass McCombs or Robert Forster (of The Go-Betweens), as Grubbs teases the guitar slowly like he's tuning it up:
“My first favourite song went something like this/I started to live when my barber died
my hair grew curly my sideburns wide/That's it/I just remember the two lines were broadcasted from coast to coast/and let me know when you track it down/What you found/Still the voice doesn't fit”

'Ornamental Hermit' might be the closest the album comes to a pop song. The drone and dissonance of Grubbs' and Pilia's playing is combined with a fairly solid hook, not dissimilar to Television's style of featuring 2 lead guitarists apparently in unison, although it's all slowed down in the middle with some lovely atmospherics to accompany the song's rather skewed lyrics.

'The Hesitation Waltz' sounds tinged with melancholy, autobiographical words riding along on the back of some pensive guitar playing, post-folk, like Grubb's noise contemporary Bill Orcutt. 'Fugitive Colors', on the other hand, is very scuzzy and sounds like Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth with all the growly guitar and distortion. Instrumentals 'A View Of The Mesa' and 'Abracadabrant' follow a similar sonic pattern, while the 3 'Salutations' are more obtuse. The first is built around a drum pattern and a soaring organ, while the second is just hollowed-out acoustic guitar. The album ends with the third and longest, a combination of the previous two, Grubbs and his group effectively play the whole sound out.

So The Plain Where The Palace Stood is the sort of pop album that David Grubbs will allow himself at this stage in his career. Rather than the alternative rock of 2003's A Guess At The Riddle or his neo-folk Rickets & Scurvy a year earlier, this one follows the experimental thread of his last album in 2008, An Optimist Notes The Dusk. Lots of sustain, lines sung and savoured, nothing hurried about it ... he's clearly still got some good tunes in his head, but this latest work is a complex jigsaw hanging together as a philosopher's stone.

Matthew Haddrill


D.P. Kaufman - Lullabies For The Apocalypse

The Dystopian vision shared by writers like JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick has spawned cinematic masterpieces like Ridley Scott's 'Bladerunner' where the world is in perpetual darkness and rainstorm, and more recently Cormack McCarthy's rather harrowing Purlitzer prizewinning novel 'The Road' about a land totally laid to waste has also been committed to film. Electronic artist D.P. Kaufman has approached his latest work Lullabies For The Apocalypse with these images very much in mind.

He's one of that select group of musicians whose music already seems to contain within it many widescreen possibilities. A classically-trained pianist, working out of his studio in the western mountains of North Carolina, Kaufman has spent many years writing theme songs for American TV shows. Between projects he started experimenting with electronica, sampling different sounds and creating a rich sonic palette in order to write his own soundtracks.

So his latest work, the follow-up to his solo debut When The Ruin Falls in 2009, offers a nice range of moods, textures and colours in its composition, but multi-instrumentalist's real trick is to a maintain something coherent and melodic throughout the album's 40 minutes. A song like 'Where The Storm Will Never Break' clearly owes part of its existence to the music of artists like Jon Hopkins or Ulrich Schnauss, but it would be a mistake to overplay these influences. With the keyboard sound at the beginning trailing off into the distance to leave a lone piano superseded by an array of sequenced beats and multi-layering synthesizer effects, like many of the songs on Lullabies For The Apocalypse, the album's opener showcases these ideas without resorting to homage.

I personally prefer the slower and more reflective pieces. 'This Was Never Our Mountain' has the rolling wave sounds like some of the chilled Cafe Del Mar series, but also features some lovely clanking percussive elements accompanying the wash of Satie-like piano. 'You Smile With A Quiet Defiance' floats along atmospherically in much the same way, this time with some nice meandering orchestration to fade at the end, rather like Peter Broderick and Efterklang.

Elsewhere, there are more structured beats. 'Bravery' is brimming with cymballed and clockwork beats, more of a techno influence, like that of Modeselektor or Thom Yorke's current project Atoms For Peace. There's even more familiarity in the Moog synthesizer sound featured on 'A Promise', while 'Why The Leaves Glow' opens with some delightful wind chimes, before being swept away by the banks of keyboards which emerge alongside a far away train passing effect. 'They're Chasing A Feeling' has a similarly textured keyboard riding above all its percussive elements.

There's certainly a strong cinematic presence on the album. Mysterious-sounding titles ('Why The Leaves Glow' and 'Certainty Blanket') play on the writer's post-apocalyptic scenario of a father huddled in a shelter singing lullabies to his child. Enhancing the mood Kaufman wants to create with his music, the words sound like they were lifted directly from a screenplay. The expansive analogue synthesizer sound on album closer 'Only the Comfortable Grow Old' resonates with the wide open spaces created by Warp artists like Boards Of Canada or Aphex Twin, although it's fairer to put this soundtrack in its wider context, from the Krautrock lineage of groups like Ash Ra Temple or Tangerine Dream.

So drawing on a range of sonic influences, Kaufman has meticulously crafted his songs into a coherent melodic whole. The dystopian vision continues to engage our collective consciousness; Lullabies For The Apocalypse is a solid and impressive musical statement, which indeed sounds like the score for another film waiting to be written.

Matthew Haddrill


Thirty Pounds Of Bone - 'I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs Of Where' (Armellodie)

A couple of years ago I had Thirty Pounds Of Bone's 'Method' album and wasn't enormously keen on it, partly down to my not liking singer songwriter Johny Lamb's choice of stage name very much. Now here's the second album, unless I've missed something in the intervening period, and it's an altogether more assured and polished release, with Johny Lamb and his several hundred backing musicians and collaborators doing what they can with Alt.Folk, personalised tales and confessionals, traditional folk and some good ole hoedown. Smoothly produced and with some sparing electronica used to accurate effect, Johny Lamb's travels across the UK, Ireland and Europe have resulted in an album of considerable depth and given the range of styles he's working with it's testament to his abilities that he avoids sounding either overstretched or something of a dilettante in his varied approaches to songwriting. And considering the near epic scope of the album, it's also noticable that Lamb retains his focus and doesn't get swamped by either the production, arrangements, or just the entire concept behind the album. A quite committed and genuinely engaging performer, Thirty Pounds sixth album is skilfully made and will keep you listening, indeed you may want to check out one or two of the other five releases. I would still prefer that Johny Lamb went onstage under his own name though.



A-Sun Amissa - You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less (Gizeh Records)

Following critical acclaim for their previous releases last year as not only A-Sun Amissa but also Glissando and The Rustle Of The Stars, Richard Knox and Angela Chan return once more in what will hopefully signal yet another release-full year.

Following A-Sun Amissa’s previous album ‘Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep’, ‘You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less’ feels more dense and decidedly darker. Equally patient as before, the results are similarly entrancing but the added bass-clarinet of Gareth Davis contributes to a smokier, jazzier feel to proceedings in places. The attention to detail of previous releases is once again present and clearly audible amongst the different layers with new sounds often revealing themselves during each new listen as they seep slowly out of the speakers seeking souls to immerse in their soothing strains. In places sounding like an ambient Sunn o))) reinterpreting Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’ this release is split into two parts simply entitled ‘Part One’ and ‘Part Two’. This release shows A-Sun Amissa are continuing to develop and progress their sound whilst maintaining the exceptionally high standards of their members previous work.

Mark Whiffin


For The Imperium – Hail The Monsters

It is not for the band to describe themselves as beyond explanation. It is not for the band to tell you that they are beyond the conventional. Perhaps that is unfair. I expect confidence in your own music. It is not for whomever is told the above by the band to be convinced in any way.

For The Imperium would dearly love to be world shattering. Unfortunately they aren't. They are loud and they are good but they aren’t innovating. When Enzo Ferrari was trying to make his cars go faster, he made the engines bigger. This went in the face of prevailing opinion and was an awful way of making a car go faster. For The Imperium songs have pretty standard song structures and pretty obvious rock reference points, they also happen to have a a guitar player who can play really fast all the time and someone who can program and DJ.

This does not mean that they aren't good, I bet they make for a ferocious live show, but it does mean that they've failed to hit their own target. For The Imperium are certainly musically talented, but not in a particularly innovative or interesting way. Steve Vai, Pendulum, and P.O.D would make an intensely distressing combination, It is to the credit of For The Imperium that despite melding the sounds of those three things, they don't sound absolutely interminable.

If you like heavy music and enjoy a listening to a guitar virtuoso go bonkers in 4 minute chunks you will like For The Imperium, so long as you are not expecting to hear anything particularly original and are expecting it to get a bit tiresome after a while too.

One last thing, if you slag off other bands for having failings, you open yourself up to intense scrutiny. It is the equivalent of suggesting you are without sin.

Christopher Carney


Pere Ubu – Letter From Shanghai

Somebody once famously quipped that Pere Ubu were the missing link between The Velvet Underground and the punk movement. It takes a certain artistic bravery to live up to a statement like that, but one which David Thomas and his band can rightly lay claim to since emerging from a vibrant underground music scene in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1978, with their debut The Modern Dance. They have configured in various forms since then (band members often fought and fell out; in fact, Thomas is Pere Ubu's only permanent fixture!) and moved through a whole range of musical styles, each release stubbornly refusing to repeat the last. Thomas's music tends to jerk and start in different directions, making his band's albums quite scatological, full of unfinished thoughts and ideas arranged to collage effect, something like the musical equivalent Lichenstein pop-art. Ultimately though, everything hangs together with the 'glue' that is the art-rock of Pere Ubu.

In recent years, they have delved into their own history, so no surprise when they released 2009's Long Live Pere Ubu, a selection of songs from French artist Alfred Jarry's surrealist musical 'Ubu Roi', from which the band took its name. Thomas has wholeheartedly embraced elements of surrealism and absurdism throughout his 35-year career, and there are hints of that again on Pere Ubu's latest album Letter From Shanghai.

The press release announces: "Smash The Hegemony Of Dance. Stand Still". It appears that the hip-shaking which everybody's favourite 70s genre induces is causing Thomas problems. Bizarrely he begins the album with 'Thanks' in which the words "You Can Go To Hell" are sung over and over again to the tune of Anita Ward's 1979 disco hit '(You Can) Ring My Bell'. While Letter From Shanghai isn't an anti-disco (or 'post-disco') album, it is liberally laced with these rather absurdist elements.

Thomas's warbling and shouting has been compared with a madman barking at the moon. Some herald Pere Ubu's wolfish frontman as the American equivalent of Mark E. Smith of The Fall and all his post-punk ramblings, and you can certainly hear it on songs like 'The Road Trip Of Bipasha Ahmed' and provocatively titled 'Musicians Are Scum'. Credit to long-time musical partner Keith Moline on guitar, Michele Temple on bass, Robert Wheeler on all manner of synths, and Steve Mehlman on drums, for all keeping up!

On album standout 'Mandy', the singer dallies with fragments of popular culture, again the pop-art effect which makes Thomas's self-published booklet 'Chinese Whispers: The Making of Pere Ubu's Lady from Shanghai' accompanying the release all the more intriguing! The tinny-sounding synths and electronics could have been pulled straight from a 60's B-movie, and overplay a bass synth riff which evokes a spirit of disco with its drum-steady beat, but it's Daryl Boon's meandering clarinet which weaves a dark texture into the tale. 'Mandy' plays something like a Brothers Grimm fairytale and the 'troll under the bridge' scenario, which Thomas is great at playing to. The singer calls out despairingly "Why don't you come out to play with me, Mandy/I'm all shook up with your baby, why don't you come out to play?/I've been asleep for a 1000 years/I'm on the outskirts of nowhere in the bottom of nowhere", with the sort of icy-chill effect Alan Vega/Suicide achieved on their dark classic 'Frankie Teardrop'.

Elsewhere, there's a macabre story ending with a car alarm going off ('And Then Nothing Happened ...') and the circular nightmare of '414 Seconds' when the singer wonders out loud "What part of the dream is truth?/What part of the truth is a dream?".

Some of the electronics are rather too murky and garbled to be of much value on an album, however experimental it's meant to sound. The album is bookended by its two most surreal moments: Thomas signalling the deathknell at the beginning with an Ubu dance party, but the album ending equally erroneously with 'The Carpenter's Sun', with the sort of experimental electronics you might find on a BBC Radiophonics Workshop recording.
So on Letter From Shanghai, Pere Ubu adopt the classic post-modern post-punk pose: take everything you've learned and then reject it so you can make everything up from scratch again. It's all rather 'other' and full of non-sequiturs; even the exotic-sounding title is quite wrong-footing. Like the last album, there is a sense here of revisiting the past, in some kind of post-disco Modern Dance 35th Anniversary spirit, no doubt, but with Pere Ubu, would anybody like to guess what's round the next corner ...

Matthew Haddrill


Tom Morgan - Orange Syringe

The guy who wrote The Outdoor Type and It's A Shame About Ray has written a new album. Guess what? It's an album you'll listen to all the time. It made me want to always be walking out of one place and be on my way to another. I wanted to live in a College Town, within a big city. I wish that I could sound like I'd stumbled across a bunch of great tunes and great lyrics while I was drinking beer at noon and not going to class, forever.

I guess I was always a little bit college-rock is as decent a description of me as it is of this album. I wouldn't suggest you let that put you off either. Orange Syringe isn't constrained by genre, so you can expect to enjoy the songs on it purely because they're really really good. If you weren't busy enjoying them pass over you, you'd probably say something about the song writing, but you've not noticed that yet because you're having a nice time.

Orange Syringe is a nice time.

Things, being done well, being fun. Get on that, it's quite rare. (and there's a Breakfast Club reference in there too. Can you spot it?)

Christopher Carney


Black Market Serotonin – Something From Nothing

This is the kind of thing that makes you wonder how other musically talented bands get it so wrong.
Throw in your jaunty regency middle 8, but only if it's good, or funny, or fits. Remember, you got good so that you could make wonderful music, not so that you could show others how good you are. It can never be the aim, it must be the way to get to what you want.

The thing that you should also be aware of is that this is BMS's début. The jealous might console themselves with the possibility that this is the product of a life writing, but the optimists are hoping that this is a great start to a world of possibility. They're about THIS close to being Muse at their most antagonising, but managing not to be by writing songs rather than a collection of maddening chunks that are tough to play. The avoidance of monotony while embracing repetition and the ability to deal with expectation caused by the repetition to heighten surprise is admirable and enjoyable.

To right the unrightable wrong / To love, pure and chaste from afar / To try, when your arms are too weary / To reach the unreachable star.

Lofty ambition and tunes and skill are nearly always worth some of your time. BLS are worth a lot of your time. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening. I have not felt let down by ambition at any point.

But there's always a worry. I bet when you're aiming high, you don't hear lines from Man of La Mancha, you hear yourself telling you that lofty aims are great, but they can very often lead to tedium. When that happens, tell yourself that they're worth aiming for, as an end in itself and because when they pay off, they really pay off. I'm very impressed and not a little jealous of the accomplishment. I hope that sounds like the kind of compliment I intend it to be.

Christopher Carney


Lower Plenty - 'Hard Rubbish' (Fire)

Australian indie album of the year 2012 now receiving a UK release, 'Hard Rubbish' is neither of those things, meaning it isn't either difficult to listen to and it definitely isn't rubbish either. The combined talents of several Melbourne scene veterans making the album they've always wanted to, the nine tracks on 'Hard Rubbish' are a series of lo-fi vignettes of love, loss, despair, delerium, stealing someone's boyfriends car and driving to Adelaide, told against a backdrop of gritty guitar pyrotechnics, one-take vocals and the kind of studio ambience you only really get in a derelict actual garage. What with so much overproduced misery bleeding out of our stereos nowadays, an album like this really does sound like a reaction against all that overhyped psychedelia that lost its edge several years ago, and Lower Plenty's tales of the sort of life changing events and accidents that can redefine anyone's existence carry an air of noir-ish realism with them, and it's easy to see how 'Hard Rubbish' has found itself such an appreciative audience in its home country. Unlikely to ever gig in this country and probably Lower Plenty's only album release, I'd suggest that you hide a copy of 'Hard Rubbish' in your attic and rediscover it in a decade or so, when you can amaze your friends with what will undoubtedly turn into one of the greatest obscure masterpieces of lo-fi Australiana, very definitely of 2013.