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  albums - jan 2006



4AD – 1980 Forward ( 4AD )

4AD Records began in 1980 and went on to become a very important, emblematic label that has consistently turned out credible indie music for the last quarter of a century.  This is a carefully considered overview of the labels hey-day and a small selection from their current roster of artists.  It is by no means a definitive guide to 4AD, nor is it a contrived ‘best of…’ money spinner, but used in conjunction with the series of gigs happening throughout November.  It revels heavily in the more obscure signings and album tracks that the label has on offer and in essence; there are better tunes in 4AD’s directory and thus better compilations could be made.  

Obvious highlights include the esoteric moaning of the Cocteau Twins’ Lorelei, the undeniable radiance of Pixies’ Where Is My Mind  and the brief but ever brilliant Mountain Goats’ See America Right. In addition, the chillingly beautiful Diaphonic Chant by the Bulgarian Choir begins the album superbly. But unfortunately this is a compilation splattered with tracks you could easily use to fill the cracks in your ceiling with, such as some serious yawning material from the Wolfgang Press, the dozy miserablists Tarnation and the downright banal Sybarite – the type of tunes that skip buttons are specifically designed for. This is a shame, not only because it doesn’t sit well with the rest of the album but also because they have been included in favor of some influential British goth and industrial groups such as Modern English and Bauhaus.  A more obvious but understandable omission is Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S, a groundbreaking single that did much to liberate the humble sampler.     

As a budget compilation, 1980 Forward serves as both a solid introduction to an iconic label and as a mere glimpse into the vast wealth stored in the 4AD vaults.  But a far more exciting and tempting a prospect is the proposed “bespoke” version of this compilation, one that will allow you to customise your own compilation from 4AD’s entire back catalogue. I guess if you want something doing well you should probably do it yourself.

H.H Thornville

Tender Trap -Language Lessons EP (Matinee Recordings) 

You’ve got to like Tender Trap. No? Why, it’s Amelia Fletcher’s band! Yeah, well, forget it. They are not Talulah Gosh! They are not Heavenly! They are not even Marine Research! And yet, despite being Amelia’s fourth band, they are just as ace, just as exciting and, as this last EP proves, just as catchy. When their first album Film Molecules came out (Fortuna Pop! and K, 2002), I was totally overwhelmed by it: lyrically it was scarily direct, which I guess is Amelia’s forte. Musically, however, I was hearing something brand new - yes, the girly voice was familiar but everything else was so different from bands that preceded Tender Trap that I was intrigued and wanted to keep listening to it to find out what had changed. Amelia and Rob started a new band with a more minimalist line-up for a reason and, although I can’t pretend they told me it at a drunken party, I suspect that Language Lessons is here to show us why. A brighter, clearer sound emerged in much simpler, bolder arrangements and lyrics to rival Heavenly’s cheekiest yet dark offerings. There are at least three irresistible reasons to buy this record now: 1) It’s got four gripping, unbearably beautiful songs (my favourites being ‘Talking Backwards’ and the song equivalent of Godard’s Breathless, ‘Friendster’); 2) it’s got one of the prettiest covers in the history of indie-pop ever (it features a supercute photo of Amelia looking like a teenager, and her handwriting all over the packaging); 3) ‘¿Como te llamas?’ was written and is sung by both Amelia and Lupe (from Pipas), which is a bit like watching an episode of Corrie with both Status Quo *and* Dire Straits! Quite frankly, this is unmissable. 

Marianthi Makra

The Kooks – “Inside In/Inside Out” (EMI) 

If Artic Monkeys are destined to be the new Oasis and the Kaiser Chiefs are quite happy to settle for a career that involves writing shitter versions of old Blur tunes, then nostalgia fans will be happy to discover that The Kooks sound more than a bit like Supergrass before they grew up, grew beards and got boring.  

Breezy pop songs are the order of the day here. The brief acoustic strum of “Seaside” opens proceedings nicely, before the album truly roars into life with “See the World” and never really lets up from there on in. “Eddie’s Gun” is a cracking tune and gets better with every play, “You Don’t Love Me” is what The Strokes might sound like if they originated from Brighton, and if you like your breakneck pop with just a hint of ska, “Time Awaits” and “Matchbox” will be right up your proverbial alleyway. 

The only thing stopping The Kooks from gate-crashing the big leagues is that they’ve yet to pen a tune of “Alright” calibre. I’m heavily resistant to all this Britpop-revival business, but this lot have come up with something that deserves recognition in its own right.

Will Columbine

Spider – “The Way to Bitter Lake” 

Featuring what may be one of the best song titles ever (“I Don’t know if she had Any Teeth Because She Never Smiled”), the eight tracks that comprise “The Way to Bitter Lake” will appeal to fans of Iron &Wine and warm, intimate folk in general. Spider is one Jane Hership, a NYC-based songstress who has been gigging aplenty in her hometown over the past year, on this evidence, needs only her guitar and delicate voice to capture one’s attention. 

However, she has friends within easy reach and with their help fleshes out the weary countrified sprawl of “Cold Eyes” with mournful backing vocals and slide guitar. Then there’s the aforementioned “…She Never Smiled” which combines gospel leanings with the kind of atmospherics Spacemen 3 would have been proud of.  Quite lovely.

Will Columbine

Marsha Swanson - Watershed

I thought I had been listening this for the last hour or so on repeat play. Turned out it was all the same album but it all sounded the same. Which is not that odd because opening track 'Don't Blame It on Love' seems very familiar, like it has been used on a TV shop soundtrack, possibly about poorly pets. Second track 'Cry' was also a very pleasant acoustic number allowing Swanson to demonstrate her ample vocal range. But how many more Beth Orton coffee house aural wallpaper sound-alikes do we need? Good news for Starbucks (especially now that KT Tunstall's royalties will have gone through the roof following her Brit nomination), bad news for anyone wanting something a little bit more challenging and off the well trodden track.


Get Hustle – Rolling in The Ruins ( Three One G )

This offering, and I use the term loosely, is truly terrible, an abysmal mess of clattering drums, yelping lyrical nonsense and squealing feedback.  Seemingly no structure, talent or point to its entirety. This record makes me feel exceptionally  uncomfortable and somewhat terrified at the prospect of having to listen to it ever again. It’s like the reoccurring nightmare I sometimes get; where I have an intense itching on my belly button and after a few minutes of futile scratching it comes undone and my innards spill out onto the bedroom floor, leaving a pulsating mass of barely throbbing organs. This is the sound of throats slitting, of a backstreet lobotomy, of your brain collapsing due to carbon monoxide poisoning and the only solace I find amidst this bleak landscape of noise and misery is that it finishes. Less rolling in the ruins, more rolling about on the floor with your hands over your aching ears trying to protect your rapidly depleting brain cells, all the while screaming for mercy. Awful. 

H.H Thornville

Avangaärd - The Thoughts of the Last Dodo

Curious name, curious sound. the opening track sounds like a honky tonk saloon bar version of 'Seventeen' by Ladytron. Seems a little long but full marks for diversity. Track 2 by comparison sounds nothing like either of those but more in the mould of Coldplay to begin with until it morphs into a more retro vibe that the Gallagher brothers would be proud of. The influences don't stop there - there's alight hearted dodgy sounding, sorry, Dodgy-sounding track, a rock operetta a la The Hellset Orchestra, a minimalist Placebo-esque affair with Runrig overtones and a pleasant acoustic number to finish. Clearly finding varying styles are not a problem for Avangaärd. Choosing which direction to take in the long term may be more tricky.


Johnnie Burton - s/t

For reasons best know to herself, the press release accompanying this CD features aforementioned Ms Burton playing guitar in the bath. Let alone being impractical - this could be downright dangerous kids. So what other horrors would await inside?

Well, fortunately enough, not that many. Although I was expecting some saccharine sweet over produced mid-American rawk, Johnnie Burton has put together an album which sounds remarkably fresh from start to finish by fusing a punk attitude with ferocious energy. Like a non-mental Courtney Love, Burton carves her way through eleven 3-minute punk rock tracks without sounding trite or formulaic, despite the rigid verse-chorus-verse structures. A pleasant surprise.


Akayzia Parker - The Party's Over

Ideal music for a chick flick or an episode of Cold Feet - you get the idea. Akayia Parker has a distinctive breathless voice. In addition the song writing style further reinforces the similarity with Macy Gray. In fairness, this isn't a bad EP but Macy Gray does it better and her producer ensures she doesn't sound like she is singing down a hosepipe.