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albums - october 2015


   

Ordinary Boys - Ordinary Boys

More years ago now than feels reasonable to acknowledge, I was at the Islington Academy to see an American girl punk band called The Twenty Twos. They were all 22 years old (clever you see) except their aged, Japanese drummer who was the only man I've ever seen lose a drumstick on one snare hit and get a replacement from his drum pouch before the second came around. Apart from some drum acrobatics, the other reason why the night was memorable was because this promising and ultra cool New York band were supported by some
Industry promoted wannabes called The Ordinary Boys. Even before they came on, attractive indie girls with band badges were wading through the crowds forcing free merchandise onto bewildered members of the audience. When they took the stage, they churned out a mediocre bunch of mod tracks in mockney accents. Most people didn't take too kindly to their presence if I'm honest. They went against the grain of the night. When I looked them up after the gig their website was pretty basic and the photos were of four blokes of completely different looks and hairstyles gurning back at me. "Fuck these pub rock idiots" I thought and probably then checked my email or looked at porn or went and had a bath in champagne or something.

The Ordinary Boys didn't register on the radar again. That was until the saucy little shits started turning up on TV. HOW DARE THEY. How can the sassy and sarcastic Twenty Twos, fronted by Jenny Christmas not be on TV but this bad memory is? What's more, they've only gone and all got the same haircut and mod uniforms, even the long haired, tenacious guitarist who held out he longest ended up looking like Liam Gallagher in a Clash tribute band. They stank of industry pushed emptiness.

What followed was a faux lad rock onslaught of songs from debut 'Over the Counter Culture' as the band sang about ordinary shit, as they're the Ordinary Boys yeah? Just like you or me, in shit jobs struggling to pay the bills, week in week out. Man we're all so working class.

Then it got worse. Lead singer Samuel Preston, otherwise known simply as 'Preston North End' by the press, became a minor celeb. With a celeb girlfriend and a reality TV career. He even went on and then subsequently walked off Never Mind The Buzzcocks in a completely non publicity seeking way all out of principle for his girlfriend or book or career or something noble that you or me couldn't understand as he's an artist and you're just a fucking pleb who works in Morrison's. Two more albums later and they were gone for good.

So what's all this got to do with their reunion and new album? Well first off it's called context you critical shits. Secondly it is this history that weighs heavy on their shoulders. A blessing of course as the mass of people older than Jenny Christmas will remember their name and at a push, their music. But also a curse. A celebrity marriage, a TV spat, a stylised image. It all amounts to being seen as a joke. It puts them at a deficit already. I have no doubts they are serious, hard working musicians but try shaking your legacy. Go on. It's like boycotting Nestle. It's impossible.

So this album's ok. It's well produced. There's a few catchy tunes. Opener 'About Tonight' is a Weezer style romp with Costello style vocals. 'Almost Ready' is melodic and warm, recalling the best of the late 90s to mid noughties indie musings. 'Cruel' is a well written pop song, something I remember Preston North End saying was a personal goal way back when he was trying to be taken seriously after his 'Buzzcocks flounce. However it's all very average and dated. There's also some utter stinkers. Guitar lines are obvious. Lyrics often abysmal "love is a four letter word" is offered up as if it's an original thought and I would put money on the fact that 'Panic Attack' is the worst album filler you'll hear this side of 2015. It's fucking dire with a capital shit.

So this is what it is. Fans will like it I'm sure. There's a few sing along moments for the crowds (if there are any crowds), it's pleasant and inoffensive and as beige as the ordinary, day to day life they're still singing about. An album of filler for the over the counter culture. But what would I know, I'm just some fucking pleb who works in Morrison's. 4/10

Moker


Various: Kitsune Maison: Compilation 17 - The World Wide Issue

Kitsuné means Fox and seems to manage to be a fashion label and a record label. Never read the bio. The roster that Kitsune have is pretty great though and this bodes well especially for someone in the mood for someone else making them a mix-tape, which is how I'm choosing to view this.

Especially as I must confess to knowing who no one except MOTHXR are on this particular mix. So, to deepen the premise further, I asked my cooler friend to let me know about what's good.

If you look at a lot of my other reviews I rarely mention track lists or genres and this is concious. I want to tell you how this stuff works, how it feels, how it makes me feel and what it does. A compilation like this lends itself to description and I am no fan of the absolute rule. However, I'm still aware that a mix tape should work together. I'm keeping my eye on this. Kitusne, the fox, should be able to change appearance at will. I expect this to be reflected.

Parcels are sleepy eyed grins towards fun. A sleepy confidence because you know fun awaits

Danglo are more aware that there needs to be expectation and then reward. It isn't time to go hard just yet, but it isn't quiet time anymore;

Chiefs come off like the sort of stuff you'd always want playing if you were persuaded to go to the clubs you didn't think you'd like. Reminiscent of Rhianna and don't baulk at the comparison, not least because it is a favourable one and used as an indicator that there's slink in amongst any beats;

What would you call pop? I would have thought that by now it's too broad to be disliked and yet still manages to be useful. Muna are excellent descriptions of that definition of pop. Remember, Fleetwood Mac are pop in some circles So Special is the first peak on what has so far been pretty flawless. I would stay friends with this guy having received this. I get the impression Jerry Bouthier (who compiled this) likes me and more, wants to impress me. I am.

Daunt – This body Rushes manages to slow it down and keep things at a nice plateau of fun;

Bad Bad Hats make you hope that this sort of music you'd say you want to hear when you turn on the radio but secretly want all for yourself so you can show it others. I'm going to rip off huge chunks of this when I make someone a mix tape. It's a good job my music taste is generally flawless or I'd worry about the follow up. This is all pretty great times so far, together and on their own.

With no ability to employ the lazy dramatic device I just set up, JATA keep everything going, relatively perhaps the first fall from the plateau, but already the music is in my head so I foresee a growing appreciation.

You've all read High Fidelity, you have and maybe you even know it was a film. You know that you don't front load your mix tapes, you stick to a prescriptive formula from a book written decades ago and make sure that it's all Stax and Motown. Or, as we're not in the box just yet you bring the awesome right back. Cesare, like much of this mix tape, is excellent for dancing to and not bad for sound tracking various dream sequences that reveal little by way of obvious exposition, just add to the good times. I swear that isn't meant to sound like a bad thing. It's all I want right now. I am getting all I want right now.

If I had a keyboard with Cesare's setting, I wouldn't use it. I wouldn't be able to without giggling at how it sounds like all early 90's dance. Cesare doesn't care about this. Cesare is just going to make everything shimmer while you wiggle your fingers over your face in a field. I am glad Cesare doesn't worry about this.

Now, just in case you were wondering, and I have been oblique, is this all dance music? It is not. I guarantee that you could dance to all of this though and I would definitely ask you to dance to Kita Alexander's Go My Own Way. You would be into it and I'd probably see if you wanted to kiss. If you had kissed me you'd be super into staying dancing with me for Kafka Tamura. That or something has annoyed you and it has inexplicably started raining and your hands are on the bonnet of a car. This is the best tv show ever. If you think I'm not chair dancing while I re listen and write this, you are very wrong.

MOTHXR, the only band I'd previously heard if you recall, lose out a little because I've so far had such a series of enthusiastic introductions. I know MOTHXR's feelings are probably initially a little hurt that I don't seem as enthusiastic. That's OK though MOTHXR, it doesn't take me long to get right back into that last conversation we had about mountains and how if you were aim right, you could throw a Nerf football through the centre of the bushes outside your house. It's always fun to see friends like that again.

We're at the penultimate track already. I think we need a beer run, maybe slope off somewhere and smile while hands find hands and grins touch. Beach Baby got your back for that too. If you're nowhere near done, you can get through with what they're playing too. Nice to hear some guitar music though isn't it. It had not occurred to me at all.

Harrision Brome has an excellent first name. I wonder if it will, based on the ages of the people who may have given people these names, become a popular name with 18-25 year-olds. I call yes. In his spare time, Harrision is a different type of adventuring archeologist. He runs into caves with treasures and places them on traps he then sets. Once this is done he tells everyone about a map taking them to these places, gives lessons in avoiding or otherwise make safe the traps and tehn plays music for anyone who tries. This is more true of me than Harrision, but he has a cool song on this compilation and I'm going to listen to more of his music, so he's alright really.

A fox that changes shape, that can move through places at will by switching appearance or one that can help you have a fine time regardless? I Call that the perfect tee up to the sort of sign off I wouldn't use.

Christopher Carney


The Parkinsons - A Long Way To Nowhere

From the opening bars of ‘Primitive’, I knew I would fall in love with this band immediately. They have it all. Sleazy abrasive punk meets 50s rock’n’roll riffage and a vocal that carries it all perfectly. Such a kickstart to the album as singer Al yells the words “Oh, baby, it’s a long way to nowhere”. ‘Too Many Shut Ups’ rolls in rappidly. A cascade of fire fueled dirge guitar backed with flat out drums and scattered, yet effective bass lines. The high pitched lead is reminiscent of ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’, though as if it was being played at a much faster bpm by The Damned. ‘Angel In The Dark’ is a joyous carinval of brilliantly arranged thrash punk beauty and would sit perfectly alongside anything on The Stooges ‘Funhouse’. I love the video to this showing footage of them playing Sean McLusky’s influential Sonic Mook nights. Shoreditch, so much to answer for! I always think of mid album track ‘Universe’ first when I have this album in mind. I think maybe this is because of the distinctive dynamics between Victor Torpedo’s menacing guitar and the vocal. It has an evilness that is hook laden and punchy in the same vien as The Rutts ‘Babylon’s Burning’. My favorite track on this masterpiece has always been ‘Hate Machine’, wrtten about bull fighters in the Med and is a stab at animal cruelty, one thing this band are very intollerent of and so they should be. I’d love to catch someone hurting a defenceless creature. I would end up behind bars for a long time. ‘Nothing To Lose’ is the calmest voyage, yet most effective number on the menu as quoted “Great band. Great recording of a great song.“ by Guy McKnight of fellow tour buddies The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. It’s like an anthem in its own right and definitely defines that moment in time. Album finisher ‘Scientists’ displays the true production of both Jesus And Mary Chain members Jim Reid and Ben Lurie as it echo’s moments of Sex Pistols, The Clash, Richard Hell And The Voidoids, Iggy Pop and The Birthday Party. It’s manic to the point where your ears begin ringing if you have it playing full blast on a good enough stereo. Hectic, loud, noisy, raw and accomplished. What a composition! Secret track ‘Bad Girl’ is a stomp happy garage punk joyride that proves these Portuguese racketeers know how to go out with a bang! Buy it, play it and smash your TV up whilst you do so. 10/10

Gavin Tate


Exxasens - 'Back To Earth'

With so much space news about recently, stories about water on Mars, gigantic asteroids, Facebook launching satellites and ever more detailed photographs of the universe appearing every week or so it seems, Spain's Exxasens bring an instrumental album that seems designed to soundtrack videos of interplanetary goings on, mellow post-rock on a vast scale filled with guitar crescendos and crashing cymbals and track titles that express their own sense of wonderment at the enormity of the cosmos, and our and their significance (or lack of it) within the unimaginable void of space itself. Opening track 'Supernova' with its echoing grungyness and what sounds like a string section in the background is music that practically demands to be used in a car advert, 'My Hands Are Planets' is something like Snow Patrol in one of their inspired moments, while 'Hugeness' has Exxasens providing their own take on what we used to call Angular, interspersed with some very Foo Fightersy thrashing about.

'Oniria's Interlude' seems set to add a lighter note to the proceedings until it ends at just 51 seconds and we're back to the crashing crescendos again with 'Your Dreams Are My Dreams' and metal riffs that it needs to be said could use a proper guitar solo or three in among them, although that isn't exactly what Exxasens are about. The music doesn't really vary a lot throughout although 'Bright Side Of The Moon' slips in some flamenco guitar and there isn't any question that Exxasens aren't some skilful musicians, if getting a bit repetitive by around the twenty minute mark and it's the last and title track that seems the most enthusiastic moment on the album. 'Back To Earth' is a well played album whose effect is slightly muffled by its glossy production although it's probably a good one for late night driving.
www.exxasens.bandcamp.com

JG


Tymon Dogg - 'Made Of Light'

Aside from his appearance on the Clash's 1980 triple album 'Sandinista', the musical career of Tymon Dogg has taken place very much in the background of the industry, which is, and Tymon himself isn't denying it, a bit frustrating for a performer who released his first single in 1967, and despite his releasing several albums in the 80s he may have seemed destined to remain a sideman to the projects of others, of whom Joe Strummer's Mescaleros were only one such. Or perhaps that was how he wanted it, or there may be another reason as to why we are only now getting to hear the quite real curiosity that is 'Made Of Light', an album that may very well have been almost half a century in the making.

Best known for his violin playing, if you remember the 'Lose This Skin' track from 'Sandinista' you'll know that Tymon Dogg has a distinctive vocal style, and an idiosyncratic way with a lyric and both of these elements are present throughout the twelve tracks of the album, although the music alters quite a lot, from the baroque harpsichords of first track 'Conscience Money', the plaintive folk of 'Time For Moving On', the Big Audio Dynamite referencing 'Pound Of Grain' and 'Like I Used To Be' the rollicking jiggery of 'Perfect Match', the Scott Walker-ish reflections of 'Modern Art' and the heartfelt balladry of 'Walking Down The Road'. Now approaching his 70th year, 'Made Of Light' is a tour de force of an album by anyone's standards and a quick perusal of Tymon's Wiki page reveals a back story that's too involved to go into here, so if you wish to spend a half hour or so in the company of one of music's genuine mavericks, give 'Made Of Light' a listen. Boring it isn't.
www.tymondogg.com

JG


Ancient River - 'Keeper Of The Dawn'

Listening to first track 'This Is The Time' and its dreamlike musical architecture, its echoey guitar and keyboard riffs, and I began to wonder as to why so few bands really take The Doors as a notable influence. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the distinctiveness of the Doors sound, which few if any bands have ever really succesfully emulated. Ancient River certainly have more to them than just the practised regurgitation of those Kreiger and Manazrek guitar and keyboard tones, and they certainly don't go so far as to attempt full blown Morrisonian poetics, or turn in an autotuned replica of his vocal style, which is appreciable. The first few tracks on the album definitely owe something to and contain recognisable traces of Doors songs, and they're played with ability. Then fourth track 'Mother Of Light' takes things in another direction, bringing in a post rock sound that maybe veers towards the Mars Volta somewhere, although by now we are only listening to Ancient River and not playing 'name that tune' anymore and this continues throughout the rest of the album, with the ambient 'Stay With Me', the drifting space rock of 'Journey Into The Light', the harder edged and distorted 'Desolation Song' right up until closing epic 'End Of Dawn' which finishes the album with the prog rock influenced sound Ancient River are aiming for and actually succeeding in creating. What music like this does need is a bit more effort in the vocal department, and Ancient River's voices are nearer to the whispered tones of Mercury Rev than the gutsy bellowing of Jim Morrison in his prime, but that doesn't detract a lot from an album that has some real imagination present within it. And why wouldn't anyone think 'what would the Doors sound like in 2015?' and then set about recording music based on that idea, which is what Ancient River may have done. 'Keeper Of The Dawn' may contain some recognisable moments, but as a complete album there is a lot more to it than just that.
www.ancientrivertheband.com

JG


Downpilot - 'Radio Ghost'

From Seattle, Radio Ghost make a smoothly performed sound that with its picked guitar melodies and intricate percussion and thoughtfully structured songs, sounds a lot, an awful lot, like how I remember Crowded House sounding. The timings, the chord progressions, the actual production and even the vocals, are so reminiscent of songs like 'Distant Sun' and 'Four Seasons In One Day' that had 'Radio Ghost' been packaged as the Melbourne band's seventh album I wouldn't have so much as blinked and I may take some persuading that none of Crowded House are actually involved in this nine track release that, as it progresses, is both a reminder of what a good band Crowded House actually were, and an irritatingly accurate pastiche of an Australian band that, while they made one or two memorable records, are probably wondering what will happen if they call Seattle to ask for the tapes of their 'missing' 1998 album back.

So, unconcerned about not winning any significant awards for originality and sounding convincingly like they, y'know, appreciate Crowded House really a lot, Downpilot get the overall sound right but inevitably, they can only sound like a pale imitation of a band that weren't exactly a challenging listening experience in the first place, and as every song on 'Radio Ghost' meanders along at an identical tempo and the vocalists attempts at a Melbourne accent begin to sound eerily practised for a Seattleite, I anticipate that very nearly everyone that hears any Downpilot songs is going to sort of momentarily go 'isn't that Crowded House' and then experience a moment of either appreciation or disappointment as the truth is revealed and Downpilot are exposed in all their mimicry. They are just alright at it, but listening to 'Radio Ghost' will probably just make you want to stick that copy of 'Woodface' back onto your cassette player, unless of course you are unable to remember the 1990s with any form of clarity, in which case you might just find them a bit boring, really.
www.downpilot.com

JG


Northern Uproar - 'Hey Samurai!'

So, with an album title that suggests a Japanese theme, what do Madchester veterans Northern Uproar open the album with? Can you guess? Mangapop electronics? Thrash metal? Something vaguely oriental in its musicality? Nope. Flamenco guitars and mariachi trumpet provide the accompaniment to the tale of 'Rodriguez The Bull', sort of a cover of 'Legend Of Xanadu' with musical arrangement by James Last or similar. Wouldn't 'Ay,Toreador!' have made for a more accurate title? Anyhow, we should allow a band that first broke up in 1999 their moments of levity, particularly as the remaining ten tracks are some smartly played late Britpop and it was only my music player putting what is actually the album's last track in front of actual album opener '24 Hours/24 Days' that had me wondering what Northern Uproar were getting up to now.

It probably does need some quite experienced musicians to get an album like 'Hey Samurai!' right. Despite its exclamatory title, a lot of the music is a bit laid back and influenced by, there's no other description, the sort of loungecore muzak that used to turn up in the advert breaks in cinemas. That Northen Uproar can take such a less than inspiring sound and actually write some decent songs around it says a lot for their own abilities and as they delve into referencing Indie Dance on 'Outlaws Robbing Trains', go a bit alt folk on 'Jackals', or when they're just writing guitar songs like 'Keep Getting Away', with the congas and sequencers tapping and whistling away in the background, 'Hey Samurai!' begins to make more sense than my own music player initially made of it.

There is an undeniable Spanish influence throughout the album though, and 'Start It All Again' with its samba rhythm and flamenco guitar solo actually sounds as if Northern Uproar are spending half the year in Malaga, only returning to Manchester to record the songs they've written there. Whatever it is, 'Hey Samurai!' is a smoothly crafted and cleverly arranged piece of modern MOR and just about right for the late night chill zone, whether you're in Seville, Stockport, or anywhere else.
www.northernuproar.com

JG


Tess Parks - 'Blood Hot'

This is either the work of a singer songwriter from Toronto or it is an actual new Brain Jonestown Massacre album, given that Tess Parks' touring onstage partner during her shows this summer was Anton Newcombe and there isn't any getting away from it, that is what will account for the interest of around 80% of Tess Parks audience, thereby provoking yet more Faginesque grinning from Tess Park's manager, who is Alan McGee. But forget all the businessy backdrop to 'Blood Hot', or any suggestions that the involvement of one or two quite big names is the main point of interest about the album, as none of this is very fair on Tess Parks herself, whose breathless, wispy vocal stylings are redolent of both Hope Sandoval and Cheryl Crowe and whose songs, while they can veer slightly too far down the route marked 'repetitive' are far from dull or predictable. The expectations do rise though, reading up on the background to 'Blood Hot' and wondering why there isn't much in the way of actual publicity for the album, containing the useful stuff about Tess, Anton and everyone else involved but there seems to be a determinedly anti-social media thing going on at the moment so, if it is possible, let's just listen to the album, without preconceptions of any sort.

First track sways along with some mid paced handclaps and a three chord tune that breaks into a lot of crashing cymbals as 'Blood Hot' slouches underway. It's over almost as soon as it begins and 'Gates Of Broadway' is based around an unmistakably recognisable BJMs guitar part, as Tess mumbles tunefully along. Third track 'When I Am Young' is a more focused song though, and things are beginning to sound less of the recognisable Newcombe signature moves and more like Tess Park's own influence is leading the songs. The tone is undeniably laid back though, and 'Refugee Camp' just seems like a throwaway moment of controversy, as Tess sings 'everyone's a drag' over a soporific blues tinged backing. 'Open Your Mind' is a harder edged garage punk sounding number, fuzz guitar solo and everything else the 13th Floor Elevators ever brought to us, and it's also the most energetic performance on an album that could use a bit more in the inspiration department somewhere, and also Tess Parks' voice turned up a bit in the mix. Of course, I and everyone else with any interest in 'Blood Hot' has their own already formed opinions of what a return to the guitar band sound that made his name should sound like, and there's a tension underlying the album that is very probably the sound of Anton Newcombe coping with the expectations of his audience, while maintaining his aura of artistic prestige. On that level 'Blood Hot' actually works, although with a reputation such as Newcombe's a lot of people would accept an album that took more chances musically, such as one or two (or what about a complete album of) cover versions. Suggestions to : A Newcombe c/o http://359music.co.uk/rosters/tessparks/

JG


Various: This is England ’90 OST

Shane Meadows’ This is England has created some of the most captivating and unexpected moments in television over the past few years. I don’t know anyone who has watched it and not been captivated. I’m not sure this soundtrack will have you gripping your cushions in pure tension the same way as watching Combo getting bundled out of a transit van on Grimsby docks does but it does have some high points.

First things first – there’s no real continuity in genre, Kiko Bun’s reggae mixes readily with Adamski’s ‘Killer’. Despite the title being This is England ‘90, there are plenty of anachronisms such as 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes without a Face’ (which only makes a fleeting appearance in the show as background music at Woody and Lol’s wedding.) This album is a purely a collection of tracks used during the series.

That said, there are some quality 90s staples available here – Stone Roses’ ‘Fool’s Gold’, Happy Mondays’ ‘Step On’ and 808 State’s ‘Cubik’ among them – all tracks ladies and gentlemen of a certain age will have in their record collections anyway. In some ways the influence of the music was never fully developed in the TV show – there was a brief dalliance with the rave scene and The Scientists’ ‘The Bee’ covers that nicely – but contemporary music never became such a theme as it had been in the original film ‘This is England’ with its integral mod influence.

But the real highlights for me are the juxtaposition of the samples of improvised dialogue from the show next to the bleak but beautiful compositions from Einaudi. That to me sums up the strengths of the TV series where instantly likeable characters battling through the most desperate situations. And if you don’t share that view then you still might as well buy it and get your hands on a bunch of cracking, if incoherent songs. 8/10

SB


Air Waves - 'Parting Glances'

There isn't very much I can tell you about Air Waves, the Brooklyn four piece fronted by Nicole Schneit and whose second album 'Parting Glances' is, aside from that as far as it goes for second albums the new twelve tracker is a more than creditable performance from a youngish band whose music, while it isn't quite what you could call minimal, is uncluttered and has that 'live in the studio' sound that we seem to hear less of nowadays. While any number of their Williamsburg contemporaries are going off on all manner of alt.folk and electronic directions, Air Waves are sticking to the pared down instrumentation and just playing the song, so to speak. I get albums of this type every so often, almost always either from or from near New York, easy on the ear guitar albums that remind you of those really good support bands you've seen and whose names you can never quite remember. 'Parting Glances' has the words Minor Classic printed legibly on the rear of its 180g vinyl sleeve.

First track 'Horse Race' is a statement of intent from Nicole and her band; 'I'll take you out on a Cadillac / and it goes so fast' runs the vocal over a three chord tune and while the pace of the song isn't what you could call hurried, there's a determined insistence about joining Air Waves for an afternoon's out of town sightseeing, maybe even taking in a racetrack visit and as 'Calm' and 'Lines' follow on from that introduction, Air Waves demonstrate the kind of skill with a basic chord and song structure that is a mark of actual talent, deceptively simplistic songs that can resonate after they end. With a definite 1950s influence on their song arrangements, Air Waves seem possessed of an effortless cool and when things get a little more complicated, such as the Mercury Rev inflected atmospherics of 'Fantasy' and the Interpol referencing doominess of 'Touch Of Light', these are very much Air Waves songs, not just enthusiastic recreations of those of their own favourite bands.

'Thunder' comes across like a tribute to Cheryl Crowe, the most developed and musically complicated song on the album from its plucked acoustic intro to its thudding electronica conclusion, and then 'Sweet Talk' goes all garage punk with a keyboard riff and distorted vocalising, suggesting that there's an Inspiral Carpets album somewhere in the Air Waves album collection. This could indicate that Air Waves are purposefully arranging their songs to each sound a bit different, and if that is intentional they do it with skill and not a little charm but then '1000 Degrees' and 'Tik Tok', the two songs that end the album, sound like Air Waves making music that they've all been able to agree about, echoing guitar lines, quirky rhythms, a sound that harks back in some ways to the glossy mid 80s MTV late New Wave sound and which Nicole Schneit adds her own vocal idiosyncracies to. For an album that covers quite a lot of ground in terms of influences it says something for Air Waves that their own sound is consistent throughout its twelve tracks, and 'Paradigm Waves' is an album that deserves repeated listenings.
https://airwaves.bandcamp.com/album/parting-glances

JG


The Telescopes - 'Hidden Fields'

What I know about The Telescopes isn't as much as I'd like. I know they've been around since the late 80s, a creditable indie band that formed at around the same time as MBV and Loop and were signed to Creation in the early 90s. I can't say I know a lot about their music though, and for a group that qualify as first wave Shoegaze originals theirs is a name that doesn't often appear alongside the acknowledged masters of the genre - Slowdive, Ride, Cocteaus, MBV again and not forgetting the JAMC, whose influence is inescapably revealed on first track 'You Know The Way' with its squall of guitar feedback an accurate recreation of the background noise of the Reid brothers first single 'Upside Down'. I wondered where this was leading and second track 'Absence' is a far more restrained affair, redolent of Spacemen 3 in their pre- Chart Show Indie Video Slot prime while third track 'In Every Sense' echoes the JAMC again, a track that slouches along at the pace of Ultra Vivid Scene's 'Mercy Seat' and relies of one of those two and a half chord melodies that only the Mary Chain ever really got away with.

'Don't Bring Me Round' is very nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor, with the Telescopes bringing back the feedback and now using just one and a half chords for the tune, a lot like a very slow take of 'Never Understand'. And if anyone thought that a five track album was in fact an EP, 'The Living Things' is a colossal 15 minutes and twenty seconds of what's basically a longer version of second track 'Absence', its vocal barely audible, the phrase 'I remember everything' making up almost the entire lyric. What the Telescopes remember about the indie world of almost three decades ago is undeniably something to hear, and also a reminder of just how popular the JAMC were, with their albums and singles charting consistently until the mid 90s. Perhaps there's a reappraisal of some of those less well remembered contemporaries of the Reid Brothers to be recorded, such as Spirea X, who took their album to the US and then disintegrated, See See Rider, who recorded two EPs and then evaporated, and Nyah Fearties, who never made it out of the pub. The Telescopes know what they're doing with 'Hidden Fields', although their own memories of a quarter of a century ago are perhaps understandably misty.
https://soundcloud.com/tapete-records/sets/the-telescopes-hidden-fields-snippets

JG


The Spills - 'Collecting Dust'

Emo's back. Sort of. Part Blink 182 and part Scouting For Girls, Wakefield's The Spills second album growls and grins along with a Math Rock inflected take on songs about things that bands don't usually write songs about nowadays, stories about things, people arguing with each other, not liking your friends, about life not doing what you want it to, falling off your skateboard, and doing it all with a practised touch in the musicianship that somewhere belies the awkwardness of a lot of the lyrical content. Whatever happened last weekend, The Spills are one very cohesive and smartly attuned guitar combo, and it's that, slightly more than the honesty of the wordage, that makes 'Collecting Dust' the very listenable album it is. For a band with only two guitarists, they possess the knack of making themselves appear to have more than two guitars at work throughout the albums twelve tracks, in that way that goes past studio double tracking. Add to that the verging on pop punk sound that has evolved into something more like country rock, such as the swaying, just keeps getting louder 'Stopper', the stuttering timings of 'Floyd', the post rock referencing 'I Shot An Arrow In The Air', and what might at first seem like just another eyeliner'd misery fest takes on a startling energy entirely of its own.

If The Spills perhaps began as a more obviously Emo type of band, then they've developed that style into something of their own design, with a keen sense of how to make an already complicated song slightly more complicated without playing the tune out of it, and avoiding clichés while keeping their songs in a format that a lot of rock fans will recognise, The Spills own enthusiasm for what they're playing brings it across the whole album and it's seriously well performed, filled with guitar tricks and the sort of bass and drum timing that has every song going off at a slightly different tangent, isn't overlong and is an album that you probably thought was already in your own collection somewhere. It isn't : every so often an album appears that, while it contains recognisable influences, doesn't quite resemble anything that you've heard much of recently and 'Collecting Dust' is very definitely one such album, and The Spills are a band that more should be heard of.
www.thespills.co.uk

JG


Sam Duckworth – Amazing Grace

“Do you remember how it started, we were a little less older and less down-hearted” Sam Duckworth sings rather forlornly on 'Remember', the opener to Get Cape Wear Cape Fly's fifth and final album London Royal released at the end of last year. The rollercoaster ride that was the Southend songwriter's intro to the music biz doesn't appear to have let him down easily, if Amazing Grace his latest solo work is anything to go by.

There was always lots going on with GCWCF, maybe too much at times. Self-aware confessional EMO-like lyrics were combined with musical influences as wide-ranging as Madchester and drum'n'bass. But it was the heartfelt melancholy of English folk that generally won out (Duckworth makes no secret of his admiration for artists like Billy Bragg). 2006 debut Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager was brimming with youthful energy, but also piled high with angst (although twenty at the time, the album relates mainly to his teenage years). On the title track, he laments sitting on his hands instead of taking political action, and on 'I-Spy' he berates people's apathy for the same reason. On 'Get Cape Wear Cape Fly' the songwriter imagines himself as the caped crusader of the computer game the band were named after, flying off to escape the dark realities of the world. Yes, life was never going to be easy for this tormented and restless poet.

But he seemed to find an answer with The Mannequin released in 2011. His debut solo album revealed a warmer stripped-down approach and more coherent set of songs. Beautifully poetic 'Angels In The Snow' is about the aftermath of the Chernobyl tragedy, and '18+1' works well as a tender ballad of young love set in his hometown. The simpler tone adopted throughout the album allows the emotional qualities of Duckworth's songs to come through effectively. Grunge-tinged 'Crane Song' and alt-country '8888' may have been those rare concessions to his previous band, but the solo debut showed the songwriter had clearly moved on.

Unfortunately, Amazing Grace sounds like GCWCF in remission, and is swamped with the contributors on this Pledge campaign-funded album (about 40 altogether, including Kate Nash and members of Gomez). It's been a difficult period creatively and emotionally for Duckworth (he's also been very sick, struck down with a serious stomach infection), and the album certainly has an autobiographical quality about it as he deals with themes of loss and friendship. Although good in parts, this uneven collection of songs is a long way from the songwriter's best work.

Probably best exemplified by opener 'El Loco', with the trace elements of GCWCF in its classic folk guitar finger-picking and backing vocals provided by folk singer Grace Petrie. But the song's surrounding “found sounds”, Kate Nash dreamily reciting a poem in the background at the end with cars rushing by in the background, seem like an unhelpful distraction. More effective is the very Billy Bragg-esque 'Hiding Place', although the catchiness of the simple folk tune is spoiled by the “Pledge” chorus where everybody joins and makes the song sound like a charity record.

Amazing Grace works well on certain levels. The latin/Bossanova guitar on 'Only A Fool' jollies along Duckworth's characteristic introspection (“Only a fool thinks he knows things about things”) and the brass gives it a nice laidback lite-jazz feeling. 'High Achievers' is similarly buoyant, and 'Long Division' stands out on the album for the warmth of Duckworth's voice accompanying the folk musings, piano and some lovely trumpet at the end. Stop there, and you'd have a delightful ep's worth of material.

The experiments are a mixed blessing. 'As It Is' is immersive and psychedelic, but the songwriter sounds like he's lost in his dream rather than actually inspired by it. 'Get By' is driven by the same sort of slowmotion “effects”, but a warm bluesy guitar provided by Tobias Hayes lifts it slightly out of its stupor. Songs like 'Cities In The Sky Defence', and 'The Way You Said' are more traditional folk arrangements, the former with a slight Eastern European/Balkans (Beirut!) flavour, the latter more dreamy like Smoke Fairies or Laura Marling. 'Geldermalsen Cargo' (about the enormous bounty of lost treasure from the Dutch 17th century galleon) starts out in the same way, before a rap intervention by Jehst takes turns it into something like The Streets. These add-ons are novel, but lose the album its coherence. 'Property Pages' re-visits personal feelings a bit like on The Mannequin's '18+1', Duckworth reflecting on his own austerity. The song struggles to have the same impact though, despite a nice turn on the fiddle accompanying the songwriter's melancholy.

So Amazing Grace is an odd patchwork that doesn't really fit together. Sam Duckworth's latest album sinks under the weight of all its ideas (and the people involved). The album gets its name from the recording studio he frequents with long-time musical partner Jay Malhotra. It may be just a case of finishing one thing in order to move on to the next, but issues of quality control have to be shared by the pair of them. I'm confident this relentlessly inventive artist still has a 'classic' left in him. Time will tell … watch this space!

Matthew Haddrill


Laurent Danis - Ballade pour une Beaute endormie/Nipi Le Chant De La Source

Some might find the supposedly profound otherworldly ideas and peaceful imagery of New Age music a tad pretentious, but the healing power at its meditative core makes the genre more than just a modern equivalent of hippie music. Laraaji's zither playing on Brian Eno's Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance was both esoteric and unforgettable, and Mike Oldfield's meditation on old English folk on Tubular Bells quickly became accepted into the mainstream. And while it's hard to pin down what New Age music is exactly, music that pulls you into a safe place may be boring to some, but free your mind and surely the rest will follow!

French composer and multi-instrumentalist Laurent Danis opens up all sorts of musical vistas: world, folk, jazz, latin, lounge ... from Japan to India via Morocco, Canada and Europe. In his mostly instrumental compositions he snaps those neat little audio “polaroids” that make each journey worthwhile. He's the instinctual collaborator, a sort of musical “odd job man” (no job too small!), who combines his guitar and piano playing with the artistry of others. His earthy style of playing imbues music with a rare organic quality, something you can certainly hear on Ballad Pour Une Beaute Endormie. Recounting a trip to Quebec in the summer of 2007, the album was inspired by visits to the territories of the Innu people on the New Foundland & Labrador coasts (their ancient land of 'Nitassinan'). A dreamlike quality is enhanced with interludes of drums, birdsong and other “effects” of nature, ironically making it sound more like the Amazonian forests of Brazil than those of northern Canada. A year later Danis revisited the tribes and combined the same material with the poetry of Rita Mestockosho on what would become a companion release Nipi Le Chant De La Source. The double fantasy he has created is both a meditation on nature (very much at the heart of the Innu, who worship animals like Caribou and Moose), and a voice for the struggles of the indigenous people, who number only about 18,000 and historically were laid siege to by larger more powerful tribes like the Iroquoi and Innuit:

"Je nourris mon esprit de la marche pour la survie/Je veux partager tout le respect que j'ai pour la Terre/Regarde avec ton coeur et nourris ton esprit pour que ta mémoire embellisse la terre" ("I feed my mind walking for survival/I want to share all the respect I have for the Earth/Look with your heart and feed your mind that your memory beautify the earth")

'La Chemin De La Sagesse ('Song For My Father')' on the earlier album is now transformed into 'Je Nourris Mon Esprit' ('The Path Of Wisdom'). Similarly, 'La Prophete Rouge' with its evocative forested soundscape now becomes 'Innu', set in the aboriginal language. The rest of the poems are in French, like opener 'Beaute De La Nature' and 'Poete en liberte' ('Birds Song' from Danis's original album).

Music like this is more about subtle shifts than anything seismic, the Frenchman working the mood of the piece by serenading Mostockosho's poetry. 'Sous Un Feu De Rocher' ('Eagles Are Flying Over Ekuanitshit') gathers pace like a bird in flight, driven along by tribal percussion and Santana-like guitar, while 'Un Peuple Sans Terre' ('Vision') menaces slightly, blues guitar underlining its campaigning message. The album's highlights are where Danis strips back the whole production. The acoustic guitar balladry of songs like 'Atiku' is ('Arunachula'), 'Sur La Montagne' (= 'Here I Am') and 'Dans la Vie de Innu' (= 'Ballade pour Sarah') creates more of that dense forested imagery. Hearing all sorts of other music in these songs, the latter curiously evokes Bowie's 'Loving The Alien', while the effect achieved is more like John Williams or Patrick O'Hearn.

'Le Couronnement' is the epic crowning piece of the album, but its pipes and synths and hissy choral/Clannad-like effects give it the rather overblown sound of Enya and a Celts tribute. It's hardly typical, the album(s) are more varied, interesting and fundamentally atmospheric. You take Ballad Pour Une Beaute Endormie/Nipi Le Chant De La Source as a 'whole' rather than its constituent 'parts'. The sonic melting pot can lodge itself gently in your mind if you let it, Danis's sensitive playing nursing the poet's broken heart. The Frenchman has licensed his music to the music website Jamendo so you can download or stream the album(s) free before you decide whether to buy them or not. His next project is in Tiruvannamalai, India, where he will work with a little-known singer/songwriter from London Sarah King. Let the healing re-commence ...
https://www.jamendo.com/en/list/a18208/ballade-pour-une-beaute-endormie

Matthew Haddrill


Papernut Cambridge - Nutlets 1967-1980

Multi-instrumentalist Ian Button is probably best known for his work with Death In Vegas in the 90s, and as a founding member of influential 80s electro-dance band Thrashing Doves. Recently, he's turned his attention to production and session work, with a clientele as diverse as his own obviously eclectic tastes in music. Button's voice stands out on latest project Papernut Cambridge, a vision of classic 70s psych-pop that came to him in a dream one night. There's certainly a dreamlike quality to Nutlets 1967-80, a hazy collection of covers of the period, created with regular collaborators Darren Hayman, Mary Epworth and Hélène Bradley among others.

Signature tune 'Broken Hearted Blues' transports the listener back to the “golden period” of shows like Top Of The Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test, when Mark Bolan and bands of his ilk were in their glamrock heyday. Button's version remains nostalgically true to the T-Rex orignal (from 1973's Tanx), although the raw falsetto sounds like Luke Haines of the Auteurs, also no stranger to 70s retro. The soft growl over the band's chamber pop on Paul Jones' 'I've Been a Bad Bad Boy', and playful crooning on Mikey Dread's 'Rocker's Delight' are also a reminder of Haines on the Auteurs classic 1999 album How I Learned To Love The Bootboys.

So don your slacks and platform shoes, hope Jimmy Savile's not around, and take a gentle stroll down memory lane. Lynsey De Paul's classic pop single 'Sugar Me' sparkles with the same sort of piano as the original, but odd “Yellow Submarine”-like tinkering sounds are thrown in for effect. Eyes continue to well up on the re-working of Jackie's 'White Horses', and the memories should equally flood back on Edison Lighthouse one-hit-wonder 'Love Grows (When My Rosemary Goes)'” and Alvin Stardust's only No.1 single 'Jealous Mind', both pretty jaunty and rousing. Button even apes Steve Harley effectively on Cockney Rebel's 'What Ruthy Said' as the band add some scuzzy edges to reinforce the blurry vision effect.

It all feels a bit low key, especially compared with the band's debut Cambridge Nutflake in 2013 and last year's There's No Underground, where the band stepped up with a bigger sound and prog rock style. With covers albums, there's often a hard choice to be made between simple homage and the need for radical reinvention. Nutlets would have benefited from more of the latter. Fear not, if you mail order the album it comes in flashy orange vinyl with a boxset that includes a tape, a mug and badges with pictures of Gare Du Nord train station (it is released on Gare Du Nord Records). Not my idea of a great night out, but Button's non-digital and retro style is all good clean 70s fun, so long as Tony Blackburn's the one doing the presenting …

Matthew Haddrill


Terminal Cheesecake – ‘Cheese Brain Fondue: Live In Marseille’ (Artificial Head Records)

In their heyday Terminal Cheesecake were an integral part of a flourishing alternative psych / noise scene that ranged through Loop, Spacemen 3, The Telescopes, Walking Seeds, and Leeds’ own Purple Eternal, along with related, but perhaps more ‘industrial’ bands like God, Godflesh, Head Of David, and Skullflower. At the time the band were, to my mind, the closest thing we had to the Butthole Surfers, sharing the same blend of chaotic, heavy, guitar sound mixed with a similar warped humour, sense of iconoclasm, and driving, percussive trajectory.

Originally formed in 1988 by Russell Smith (formerly of A.R.Kane and MARRS), Gary Boniface (formerly of The Purple Things and The Vibes), Mick Parkin and John Jobbagy (also from The Vibes and Purple Things), Terminal Cheesecake released a handful of albums and an equal number of singles & EPs before calling it a day in 1995.

The band reformed in 2013, with original members Smith and Jobbagy, long-serving bassist, Gordon Watson, now joined by Dave Cochrane, (previously of Head Of David and God), and with Neil Francis (from the almighty Gnod), replacing Boniface on vocals.

‘Cheese Brain Fondue’, their first release in over twenty years, is a live set recorded at an unnamed venue in Marseille, and as serves both a useful introduction for newcomers, presenting highlights from their back catalogue, together with a smattering of new numbers, and provides an accurate representation of their current live sound, with guitars very much to the forefront of the mix and the newly revitalised ensemble sounding on fine form.

The album’s opener, ‘Fake Loop’, is an uncharacteristically and initially gentle, new number, beginning with a single, untreated guitar accompanying Neil’s reading of a text in the background, with the track slowly building as the rest of the band gradually join in and the delays and distortion kick in towards the close of the song. Essentially this serves as an overture to the mighty ‘Bladdersack’, a true behemoth of a track, originally from the band’s 1988 debut EP of the same name, that now ably demonstrates the raw, distinctive Cheesecake sound.

Next up is ‘Johnny Town Mouse’, initially appearing as a stand out track on the band’s 1989 debut album and now a highpoint of this live set, a relentless, barely piece of controlled chaos and pandemonium - imagine a Lemmy-era Hawkwind covering the Birthday Party’s ‘Junkyard’ and you might be halfway there.

Then, in quick succession the band run enthusiastically though a furious version of ‘Blowhound’ from the 1990 album Angels In Pigtails, a slight change of pace with ‘Poultice’, (sounding like a Mick Ronson riff played by Metallica); ‘Wipey’ a sort of short, scatological, grotesquely menacing nursery rhyme, the immense rush of ‘Herbal Spaceflight’ from the 1994 album ‘King Of All Spaceheads’ and ‘Lazy Hard-On’ from the ‘Bladdersack‘ EP

The set closes with ‘Valium Chicken-Leg’ from their second album of 1989. Weighing in at almost 19 minutes, (which back in the day was almost a side of vinyl), and almost self-indulgently slow to get going, like some great engine cranking into life, sparking and rumbling into cruise speed before reaching maximum velocity as the track reaches the halfway point, then breaking, idling, and starting up again with one of the twin lead guitars taking up a Chrome / Helios Creed sound as the track is hand-cranked to perfection

This is the punk ethic applied to metal, the joyous abandonment to distortion and feedback rather than studious guitar virtuosity. Contemporary reference points might be Hookworms, Kogumaza, and Gnod.etc, but this set, like all of the best like albums, is a series of unique, and outstanding moments, newly forged by seasoned psychedelic noise veterans ... and a damn fine racket it is too!

Bill Howe

 

Toe – Hear You

This album review is late because I have been too busy listening to this album to write a review of it.

I am only half joking. I've been listening to this like crazy and going back to it when I've intended to listen to other things. This is a band that have been going for 15 years. I am now about to get well into them.

I don't know enough about the scene to know if anyone has disowned the term mathrock but I still like it. It helps me get past the description I want to give which is just “it's so good!” The songs keep it interesting and you never get the impression that this band want to become this century's arpeggio-tossing yngwies. I have listened to it so much. There is a familiarity to it for certain, but that's fine. There are bits you don't. There's a new trick once they've mastered the old ones.

I'm becoming fonder of albums, after a long long time of enjoying the leaps pits and summits of pressing random on several thousand songs, I now alternate (wildly). Toe, in the compliment I can best think of, would be welcome in either mood.

Christopher Carney

 

Alexa Melo – Alexa Melo

Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout once famously admitted he'd got hundreds of songs stashed away at home on cassette tapes, recordings he'd kept since he was 13. Can't be a bad thing that, can it …? So keep an ear out for LA-based singer-songwriter Alexa Melo. Signed to a major label in LA at a similar age, when she tired of their “radio-friendly” plans, the precocious kid who'd been entered for all those cookie talent shows by her parents set her sights on something different. Staying home over the next 6 years, ostensibly waiting for a new deal to materialize, Melo recorded 13 albums of material on her laptop! She's still without a major deal, and having just turned 20, the 'veteran' has self-released her eponymous debut on iTunes. This songwriter's style is complex, original and intensely personal, fusing elements of classic and progressive rock along with other more familiar modern-day pop stylings of singers like Lana Del Rey.

And also ike Del Rey, Ms Melo has things to say about her “showbiz” life, although there's little sugarcoating about it. The song 'Bleach' is about “The brainwashing and manipulating that occurs in the media and entertainment business and how easily your true colors can fade if it successfully breaks down your spirit. It's about mustering up the courage to not conform and pave your own way.” None of this would count for much without the talent to back it up, but the song draws its breath from a Radiohead-like 'Street Spirit' guitar break half way through as Melo sings “bleach my dark heart” in a sinisterly tone just right for the song. Ironically, the single 'Still Right Here' is the sort of candyfloss pop her record company were probably gagging for, but Melo turns it all Heart-like into power pop, with slavers of vintage 80s synth, something like Propaganda-meets-Depeche Mode in their dark phase.

Rather better is Portishead-esque 'Demoted', with atmospheric Dummy-like drum-loop and bass, and the background vocals fluttering away angelically with a seductive jazz trumpet. Christian James Hand's (The Mowglis) production builds the sound up, although at times it's overdone. Melo has that Grace Slick/Joan Jett rock chick thing going on, and things get really heavy on 'She's In Your Shadow' with the sort of syncopated machine-like rock Garbage used so effectively on their Version 2.0. She personalizes themes, which then spiral emotionally giving the music an unpredictable edge. It's all to the good on anguished 'Push Pull Tactics' and sultry-sounding 'Dead End', both of which drag you into a thick sonic abyss, the latter ending blankly like an epic Cure song. There's a band-like sound to the recordings, certainly something you could grapple with live, although Melo plays a lot of the instruments herself.

She's occasionally swamped, and that's why the album's standouts are the ones that tread a slightly different path. Slow-burning piano ballad 'Call This Love' finally gives Melo's voice the space it needs before she ramps up the intensity once more, singing with rather cloying teen sentimentality “it hurts too much to call this love ...”. A true artist offers vision and conviction, and that's why you forgive her. The delivery, which reminds me of Miley Cyrus's latest musical adventure, wins you over. 'The Hourglass Flips' purrs with a funk bass line and peeling drum, the singer playing out sex kitten vocals, inevitably wrapping things up ins some steamy sax play (Melo admits she can't play this instrument!). On 'Troubled Boy' she wails croakily like Hope Sandoval with an epic psychedelia backdrop, something like classic Spiritualized or Pink Floyd. 'Under Your Skin' is strangely ragtime and jazz-infused, while on 'My Ex' the song's focal point is an organ heavy with more 70s prog nostalgia.
So, lots of strings to this singer-songwriter's bow. Step back and you hear Alexa Melo for what it is, an impressive debut by an artist well ahead of her years, and one which celebrates the classics as much as alternative rock. Released on 2nd June, the album hardly made a dent, and that's probably indicative of the music industry as a whole. With so much stuff “out there” it's inevitable some artists slip under the radar. I wonder if it's a Brit-US thing, it was a while before we cottoned on to what a great thing Tom Petty was, for example? Having just completed a residency at Boardners (Hollywood) and sessions for CROQ Radio, it also seems the lady's attentions are fixed firmly on America rather than anyplace this side of the Atlantic. But with all those songs just sitting on her laptop, who wouldn't take a punt on Alexa Melo?

Matthew Haddrill

 

Alexandre Bateiras - Cancoes da Lua Nova (2015) (Release date 17th October 2007)

"When I die, my guitar also dies. My father (Arturo Paredes) used to say that, when he died, he would like his guitar to be broken and buried with him. I would like to do the same. If I have to die.”
— Carlos Paredes

Fado fell into disrepute during Portugal's years of dictatorship from 1933 to 1974 ('Estado Novo') and took a while to regain the people's trust. The impetus often came from outside. Wim Wenders' film 'Lisbon Story' in 1994 propelled Madredeus and their bewitching singer Teresa Salgueiro to international stardom. The Lisbon group blended styles of music with a strong Fado influence, but it was left to more authentic artists like Mariza to revive this peculiar kind of Portuguese blues and bring it to an even wider audience.

The BBC 4 2007 documentary 'Mariza And The Story of Fado' is as good a place to start as any. Fado in Lisbon was based on stories brought down Portugal's 19th century colonial trading routes usually sung by women of ill-repute (the so-called 'Fadistas') hobnobbing with fallen aristocrats on the fringes of the capital's society. The music's philosophy of “saudade” (loosely translated as the feeling of remembering beautiful past times that will never happen again!) goes deep into the nation's psyche. Revolutionary poetry spread through the genre was quickly snuffed out by dictators who turned the music into something bland and inoffensive, a sort of new opiate for the masses. Political dissent spread inland to centres like the ancient capital of Coimbra, north of Lisbon. The style of Fado's poorer relative is celebrated by Alexandre Bateiras on his latest work Canções da Lua Nova (“Songs of the New Moon - A Soundtrack”). Compositions are instrumental, very different from the capital without the classic 'Fadista' singers. The strange-looking dark-caped bands of players of Coimbra Fado serenaded public places and became a potent symbol of historical resistance in the country's struggle for liberation. They are the unique protagonists of Bateiras's “Coimbra Stories”!

The young Portuguese artist has made Fado's little heart-shaped 12-stringed guitar his life's work. Rather like a mandolin or English lute, the instrument's enchanting “tingling” and penetrating quality perfectly conveys the music's sweet velvety melancholia. Bateiras models his playing on 20th century Fado legends, like Carlos Paredes (or his father, Artur) who popularized the music of Amalia Rodrigues in the 1950s but was later imprisoned by the Portuguese regime for being a communist. The music for Cancoes da Lua Nova is instrumental and largely unaccompanied, it's the classic “one man and his guitar”.

The guitarist opens the album with the timeless 'classical' guitar signatures of 'Porto Largo'. The cascading arpeggios and venerable melodies are transportive: sounds of the ancient mariner washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, a feeling of timeless abandon as the guitarist picks his way through those treacherous musical currents, and makes each track bleed gently into the next. Songs like 'Bolorina' and 'Danca das Estevas' are equally intricate in their layering, brisk and fleeting, the subtle mood shifts leave as quickly as they arrive.

Fado almost certainly imitates the Italian Madrigals, but its minor chords take the music off to a darker place. 'Moinho da Azinheira' is beautiful, but bottles things up until the emotional dam bursts at the end. The unwavering structure and control of the songs can also be deceptive. 'Variacos de Sobre um Tema Melancolia' starts slowly and ponderously, but quickly gathers apace and steals a march on the other songs. Bateiras shifts the mood this way and that, and endings can be either sudden, or disappear in a strange gassy haze.

A sense of the epic is perhaps Fado's most enduring appeal. 'Cancao de Ribeira' moves through phases that make you picture a flimsy vessel out at sea struggling against the elements, but one that survives with its “questing spirit”. Stop-start 'Tributo' could be Bateiras' 'Paranoid Android' (or 'Bohemian Rhapsody'), heading off in one direction, only to twist back on itself before ultimately racing on to its dramatic climax.

'Valsa em FA' is a fitting homage to Carlos Paredes, the 'accelerated' style of playing you can find on the guitar legend's classics, like the enraptured Guitarra Portugesa of 1967 (just after his release from prison) and the more sanguine and melancholic Movimento Perpetuo of 1971. There's certainly no shortage of ambition in Bateiras' work. Cancoes' fake ending in 'Final' is greeted with coughs and splutters, the traditional sign of appreciation for Coimbra Fado (applause is preferred in Lisbon!). Canções da Lua Nova opens another important chapter on this less-featured side of Portugal's great blues music.

Matthew Haddrill

 

Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf

Heavy reverb, detuning, breathless haunting Welsh language vocals. Pop music of the Ladytron and St Etienne feel. Super Furry vibes. What sounds like Korg Monotron processing taking place. How many LPs these days start with songs over five minutes? Too many times, bands to eager to get on with the main business. This one moves at its own pace, electronically skipping along without concern for conventional record label requirements. It's bloody lovely is this. What is not to like? Nothing that's what. Get it. Do it now. Do not delay. The title means "the last day" - there would be no better LP to listen to as the High Cretin Donald Trump pushes the red button.

Dave Procter

 

Death Grips - The Powers That B

Kicks off with “Up My Sleeves”, which borders Aphex Twin; as it off beats it’s way through your skull. A vocal breakdown follows, along with creep happy laughter and electronic mayhem, whilst backed up with looped screams. There’s a Volume 10 quality about them that you’ll mostly hear in the rhythms. One thing I’ve always liked about this group, is their ability to rhyme in a way that is more than unique! “Billy Not Really” is a repetitive scattered mix of words and turmoil. This would send you sideways if you were off your cake on drugs. Constant layers of electro-schizoid chaos batter the brain until the mind swells up and combusts. “Black Quarterback” is like part 2 of what has just been, mostly due to the fact that all the songs roll into each other like herds of hay in an experimental field. “Say Hey Kid” is a babbled annoyance firing laser beams from all angles, whilst head butting walls. “Have A Sad Come BB” is menacing to the point where you want to cave your own head in! The idea of this is great, but I’m not sure whether they’re just taking the piss here or being deadly serious. Either way it sounds like a hemorrhage! “Fuck Me Out”, well the title say’s it all. I think the album has lapsed, but I haven’t given up yet. “Voilà” has a million “Oh’s” in it, whilst being poured over a fountain of screams and electronic slabs of beef. “Big Dipper* bares the lyrics: “can’t walk backwards in my box” over a sea of pulsating electric shocks. Looped high pitched wailing sours throughout. “I Brake Mirrors With My Face In The United States” is the comeback, as you can actually hear a tune for a change. Hectic dance induced beats are drenched in freestyle rhymes and spells of dirge electro. “Inanimate Sensation”, which begins with high rising vocals, swiftly followed by mimicking synth action and filth laden grime. The pairing of both vocal and instrument makes it sound like a vocoder. “Turned Off” opens with an echoing guitar not that far off that of a Neil Young soundtrack used in the Jim Jarmusch film ‘Dead Man’. Out of nowhere, manic alt-rock cymbals crash whilst they “Boom, Boom” their way into oblivion! “Why A Bitch Gotta Lie” displays the return of the vocoder, which more than ignites. Drum heavy, electronic and riff-tastic! “Pss Pss” begins with mass pitch shifting; laced in minimal electronica, see-sawing industrial noise and grimey rap-core. Title track “The Powers That B” is manic, whilst spiraling in a dark evil destination wrapped in delayed vocal, drilled metal and jaggered beats. “Beyond Alive” is the only tune I had heard previous to listening to the album in full and is my favorite yet. There’s a feel reminiscent of ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ era Rage Against The Machine; with some Morello style sound blazing, followed by a tribal drum sequence and lyrics: “We know who you are, cowards we know what you are” over a barrack of wreckage. “Centuries Of Damn” is like an out of tune shoegaze number turned electro-grime, before morphing into something that could almost be mistaken for a hip hop version of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”. The penultimate “On GP” is a mix mash of contrived punk and sonic beauty, layered in rap-overload and progressive rock guitars. The album ends on “Death Grips 2.0?, which looks to be an outro instrumental of extraterrestrial synthesized arpeggiator, while sounding like a million radar beacons colliding. If you’re wanting a K-hole in both ears, buy this record immediately. 8/10

Gavin Tate

 

Stan Smith - The Grand Scheme of Things

There’s a Ministry meets Cannibal Corpse feel to opener “Rumble In The Jungle” as it batters its way through a pit of destruction and carnage! Double bass pedal attack is followed by gut rumbling bass lines, mass thrash metal riffage and a blazing vocal. “Children of The Inferno” is a stop start monster from the word go, which is engaged in trigger happy drums and Dimebag Darrell-esque licks. I’m feeling the string tapping here is of a quality that is beyond reckoning with! “Moshpit Song” is like early Metallica, but with a black metal twist. One thing for sure is these cretin’s know how to play their instruments. The musicianship is forefront and the production is impeccable! “Corn 1? is manic; like a voyage through the garden of Rob Zombie; whilst getting throttled over the head with an axe swung by every member of System of a Down. “Space Egypt” is the groups closest stab at feasting with Slayer and is the best tune on the menu yet. Again the guitar is out of this world, beyond epic! “Black Winters” is a carousel instrumental drenched in petrol and set on fire. Wailing and beef heavy riffs compliment the drums as they trigger their way in to bedlam. “Christopher Smelly Socks” is musically hectic and could quite easily wreck the walls of a roller disco. High pitched guitar tremors tear through this like there’s no tomorrow; along with blistering rhythms; a screaming vocal, and a black bag full of mayhem. “Uncle Frank” is an off beat dish of death served up on a metal platter! Possibly the heaviest track so far and would have a pit circling for sure. The guitar collides with itself here and would cause more than a pile up on a motorway. “Primal Concrete Twins “ is chaotic as singer Angelo screams lyrics: “From desire, from desire!”. They have managed to make the song go out of key here and bring it back in to point where it actually works, amazing. A great bass breakdown follows, which fires into tap happy guitar brutality. The album closes with “40 Foot Raver”, (what a title) and is as big as its title describes, maybe bigger. Stan Smith prove with this record that they’re by far one of Jersey’s greatest metal combo’s with an ear for music of the heaviest kind. Be sure to scope the net for this roaring cascade! 8/10

Gavin Tate


The Pirate Party Brigade - Filthy Bilge

There’s a ‘Number of the Beast’ era Iron Maiden feel to opener “So Beige”, which was really not what I was expecting as when I last saw these Jersey ship merchants play, they were more ram-shackle ska, though it’s only first doors. “Mr Henty” is a close encounter with Gogol Bordello; swiftly followed by trombone attack, carried across a beach of broken rum bottles. “Shadow Man” kicks off with haunting riffage, somewhat reminiscent of Zombina and the Skeletones. Singer Monty has a Joshua Homme quality to his vocal here as the brass becomes forefront. “Working For Your Greed” reminds me of something I may of heard coming from ‘BOMP’ legends Jonny And The Rats over 10 years ago, think it may of been “My New Girls A Man”, very similar chords. The outro is enigmatic as they “La La La” their way to the finish line. “Devils Hole” begins with a cameo and straight into the ska down strokes I’ve been waiting for! Those of you who don’t know much about Jersey, the title of this tune is based on a place where you can pick the best hallucinogenic fungus in the world. So if you’re ever visiting the island around Oct/Nov season, you’ll be sure to see all the hooded hooligans and hippies with their blue bags rooting. “Soothsayer” is like Real Big Fish, with whom I’ve never really taken to. The whole pop punk thing definitely surpassed me as a teenager. Mods for life! “Vulgar” displays the first of the pirate backing vocals as they “Hey, Hey, Hey” their way over barrels of ale. “Before The Crows” is my favorite yet. Ska signatures in the style of Capdown are met by a gang of blood thirsty trombones and stomp happy rhythms! A casket of harmonies bring this track to a close as he bares the lyrics: “Ohhhhh my life”. Next up is “Jack The Stripper”, which has a Mexican vibe to it, followed by monotone rotating riff‘s and “Oh Lay’s”. The brass is prominent here and follows the breakdowns immensely. “Player” sounds like The Offspring as it hot steps it’s way over burning coals and flamed skulls of dead pirates. “Mona Lisa” again enters the realm of RBF. Not my thing at all, but one thing that is certain; is the production of this album, so top marks on that note. “Winning” is a poetic stab at realism and seems the perfect boat to go out on! Ooh arr Cantona. 7/10

Gavin Tate