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  albums - july 2006

 

 

Magoo – ‘The All Electric Amusement Arcade’ (Series 8 Records)

‘Micronaut’ has the electropop vigour we’ve come to expect from Hot Chip. ‘It’s Apparent’ is rather lovely dreamy pop. Little hints of Mercury Rev and their ilk lurk around and about Magoo’s second long-player. First single ‘Superteen Scene’ rocks and bleeps along playfully. But ultimately, ‘The All Electric Amusement Arcade’ is perhaps overfull of good ideas and then on top of that, rather overproduced. Too often the music is produced into a sludgy indistinct mess. Guitars are too indistinct in the mix, and the whole sound often seems a bit over-compressed. Additionally the vocals are a bit of an acquired taste; a glossy cross between the deliberateness of Jonathan Donahue and the sheen of the Bee Gees (albeit a little deeper than that comparison suggests).

As a result the whole affair seems to be a touch more blandified than it should be, particularly in the first half. I can’t help but think that this record would be better live; as it is, there’s just a lack of dynamism to it as a whole. There’s some great songs here; ‘Lana Turner’ is rather beautiful, disintegrating into a wonderful, beatspliced climax. ‘Expansion Ride’ is the best track here for my money, with vocoder action over the top of a wonderful hybrid ELO / Stereolab backing. Some of the stuff here is reminiscent of the rumbling and epic moments on the Flaming Lips’ ‘Yoshimi’. This is a decent record – especially in its second half - but overall, it’s a record where it’s easy to imagine that something more special could’ve been made out of the raw materials on offer.

Craig Wood


Rui da Silva - Praying Mantis (64)

More renowned for his hardcore tribal house sound, Rui Da Silva takes a massive change in direction with 'Praying Mantis', the first album release on his own 64 Records label. A much more challenging (and as a result, commercially dangerous) sound that is a very introspective minimalist electronica runs through the full sublime 80 minutes of the album. Shifting moods and atmospheres are created with the most minute of pitchshifts and warping sounds. Percussion is layers of clicks and tappy noises that build up quite a complex beast which initially seems arrhythmical but unfolds to display a complex beat which works on a whole number of levels.

There are no stand out tracks as such, no hits or specific influences. But Da Silva has crafted a minimalist gem here.
http://www.64records.com

SB


 

The Thinking Reeds – “A Sailor Me” 

“It was cheaper to make the album than stay in therapy”. With choice nuggets like that adorning the press sheet, I could only begin to imagine the depths of despair and desperation that must have fuelled this album’s production.. And then there were the pictures; a man looking with deathly intensity into the void that had become his life, perhaps a recovering alcoholic or an ex-prizefighter forced to throw the most important fight of his career. Surely this record would make “Plastic Ono Band” sound like Pizzicato 5. 

So imagine my surprise when the majority of the songs sound like outtakes from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Breathy, overwrought vocals (in some places a little too similar to Martin Rossiter from Gene), rambling piano, and a prevailing sense of dirge smothered any hint of genuine pain or anguish. Indeed, the CD’s 11 tracks seemed to go on forever. Sometimes less can be so much, much more.
www.thethinkingreeds.com

Will Columbine


Various - Time Out: The Other Side - London by Damian Lazarus (Resist)

I really don't get it. A rather superficial travel guide DVD to London backed with a compilation CD made up by Londoner Damian Lazarus but featuring loads of non-London acts such as sheffield's Hiem? If I was being cynical again I would say that Time Out are just out to get some cheap publicity by putting together some 'free' music on the back of their cityguides. Who knows for sure...
www.timeout.com/otherside

SB


 

 The Bobby McGee’s – ‘…Yes Please!’ (Cherryade Music)

After having been round for an eternity, The Bobby McGee’s are finally getting some attention. Everett True and Huw Stephens have both recently championed the twee-as-fuck ukulele brandishing three-piece.

This EP collects together some old favourites; ‘Ivor Cutler Is Dead’ (aka ‘No Friends’) is a stone cold classic, fooling the listener into thinking this is the feyest bunch they’ve every heard before the barrage of ukulele-backed list of potential suicide methods that is ‘Molly’s Lips’ (aka 'Kill Yourself').

Jimmy’s deep Scottish brogue is rather wonderfully counterbalanced throughout by Eleanor’s gentle lilt, and never better than on ‘Genki Sudo By Flying Triangle’ (aka ‘Butterflies’). The sweetness continues on ‘Albert Camus/Audrey Tautou’ (aka 'Parisienne'), but this isn’t affected tweeness, its beautifully touching and intelligent; and that’s the joy of the B McG’s..there is the balance between the overly sweet and the barbed witticisms. One side could not persist without the other. So when ‘Billy & Tracey’ (aka ‘Please Don’t Dump Me’) sees the return of the twisted threats of violence in a cartoonish way, it’s a perfect foil for the more vulnerable moments that are strewn about here.

The NME recently described them as ‘The Moldy Peaches on PCP’, which is a totally arse about tit. If anything it’s the other way round, but that’s about what you expect from the NME these days. The last track here is the only track that brings the Peaches to mind, in that there are simultaneous boy/girl vocals with different lyrics (a la ‘Steak For Chicken’), but The Bobby McGee’s are, whilst from the same cloth, making their own outfits. The link between the two is succinctly summed up in the first track: “We’ll..never ever ever grow up”. And here’s to that.

Craig Wood


Waterson - Dada (Holier Than Thou)

Colin Waterson seems to fill the gap between electro pop of The Eurythmics and trip hop of  Massive Attack. There is a strong influence of both these bands but as yet I cannot decide whether the overall effect is positive like a new urgency instilled in the traditional electro genre or more nefarious, with a delivery like an over-melodramatic actor learning his lines.
www.watersonmusic.com

SB


 

Tall Poppies – “Thursday” 

Looking like an experiment to clone Swing Out Sister gone awry, Tall Poppies are actually twins Catherine and Susan Hay from Perth. Between them, they can play a shitload of instruments and can allegedly write a song a day if the mood takes them. 

While the music isn’t quite as kitsch as their dress sense, it positively reeks of the wine bars in which the Poppies once honed their talent. Apart from the opening acoustic ditty “Butterfingers”, nothing else really leaves any lasting impression. Some of the better tracks have some nice spacey atmospherics but, when all is said and done, it’s pleasant at best, and there’s really no excuse for entitling a song “Funky” or liberal usage of the word “smidgen”.
www.thetallpoppies.com

Will Columbine


Serena Maneesh - s/t (Playlouder)

After the early highlight that is 'Drain Cosmetics', this is an album which sadly disappoints on the whole. The aforementioned album opener explores al sorts of musical territory from the Velvet Underground to Primal Scream to My Bloody Valentine all tightly wrapped in a sub 4 minute packaging. Otherwise there is a tendency for far too many of the other tracks to go on and on without even exploring half the ground that 'Drain Cosmetics' does. Anyone familiar with the likes of Spiritualized will find high points in this album such as 'Candlelighted' which could have been penned by Jason Spaceman himself. And ultimately this is where the album will succeed or fail in your eyes. if you are a fan of the 7 minute prog-dirge-miasmic musical echo-fest then you will be in the money. If you're not then you'll just wonder what all the fuss is about.
www.serena-maneesh.co.uk

SB


 

Varsity Drag – “For Crying Out Loud” 

I pretty much wore out my copy of “Creator” back when I was but a young lad, so surely I can’t be the only one who wondered what became of Ben Deily, co-founder of The Lemonheads and the one who jumped ship before they went massive. Well, blow me down, here he is back again and by the sounds of things nothing much has changed. 

Still very much in thrall to The Replacements and Husker Du, these nine songs might be more enjoyable were it not for Deily’s weak and whiny vocals, which start to grate…umm…almost immediately. Would it be unfair to expect something better and, dare I say, less dated after almost twenty years away? Oh, how I miss the dulcet tones of Dando.

Will Columbine


The Mules - Save Your Face (Organ Grinder)

What a strange and slightly aggravating record this is. While it is true that we have probably succumbed to an age where anyone who is slightly idiosyncratic in style is quickly hammered back into their pigeon hole so that they will meet a target demographic or sales figure, sometimes you can rally against this too hard.

'Save Your Face' is an agglomeration of mainly short tracks put together by Mules mainstay, drummer and vocalist, Ed Seed. Seed introduces some really interesting drum patterns, perhaps half by design but perhaps also by necessity of having to fit in the vocal parts around the drums. Either way  it is certainly an idiosyncratic selection. What tips me towards the thumbs down is the apparently random collection of accompaniment (strings, horns etc) that tends to hit the scene spasmodically, a bit like a drunken uncle staggering into your home and being sick all over your carpet before leaving. Though there are still highlights - 'Live Feed' has a certain oldy worldy majesty about it which makes it stand out, but much of the rest of the album really does live up to the billing of being a fairground sideshow to the mainstream music world of the moment. Only you can decide if it's an apple you want to bob.
www.organgrinderrecords.com

SB


 

Dennis Bagwell – “A Random Litter of Thought” 

Imagine the misanthropy of Bill Hicks but without the funny jokes. That’s a fair summation of the work of “beat punk poet” Dennis Bagwell who delivers spoken word rants on the human condition, sometimes to musical backing, sometimes not. As with most poetry, it’s fairly subjective as to whether it has any artistic merit or not, but the relentless nature of the material gets tiresome pretty quickly. Take “The World is a Toilet”, for example, which begins with the sound of someone taking a piss and the line “All the world’s a toilet/we are merely turds”. There are 28 other examples of this sort of thing on the album and if you can sit through all of them then you’re a far more tolerant individual than I.
www.batteryface.com

Will Columbine


Various - What Goes on Tour Stays on Tour compiled by The Paddingtons (DMC)

Compilation albums are difficult to review at the best of times. Sometimes, when they are an label sampler they possess a raison d'etre or a mission statement about the label. Sometimes they are a compilation of similar genre tracks from different artists, again providing at least a foothole on the slippery slope of inspiration for a reviewer. But this compilation is just a bunch of tracks put together by The Paddingtons as what they would like to hear on their tour bus. Ho hum. Well I could make a compilation tape of what I would like to hear at work but would that have any relevance to anyone else? Probably not. There are some good (if obvious) tracks such as 'Search and Destroy' by the Iggster and 'Digital' by New Order, but then you've probably got those already. Then there's the obvious recent efforts by The Cribs, The Libertines, The Rakes etc...

So if you are a hardcore fan of the Paddingtons and wander what they listen to on a night time or you haven't bought a decent record in the last 20 years then this compilation will be great for you. For anyone else, you may just be left feeling it is a little bit pointless.
www.dmcworld.com

SB


 

Hefner - Catfight

The cheeky, loveable Darren Hayman is back, this time with a 46 track(!) compendium of unreleased Hefner songs.  

Same format as before; in stark contrast to the deliciously minimalist musical arrangements, Darren Hayman barely pauses for breath as he encompasses and documents every possible preoccupation under the sun.  

I’ve been harsh on Darren Hayman in the past. Perhaps too harsh. Indeed he’s a witty and intelligent song writer who possesses a limitless enthusiasm for his craft. Here is a man who can write a song fit for any occasion, to suit any mood and to make light of any less-than-salubrious pastime that’s likely to come your way.  

Hayman is an indulgent vocalist who has a tendency to eclipse the delicate music beneath him, but nonetheless, his wry and singular observations are forming a fairly definitive signature sound.  

When it comes to song-writing and musical output, Hayman seems to have the energy of several fourteen-year olds with a few traits similar to those of autism – just try reading his lengthy and scrawled sleeve notes.  

As often as I’ve tried to disregard the man and his music; I just don’t have it in my power to switch his records off as they play. They pack enough intrigue and allure to keep me listening. Call it morbid curiosity, but I’ve found myself on a few occasions sitting by the speakers, frozen in suspended animation, just waiting to hear what the man has to say next.  

Even though Catfight comprises of unreleased material, released posthumously after Hayman put Hefner to rest, it is just as accessible as any of Hefner’s albums and let me tell you, it’s worth a punt.

Alex Clark


The Two Headed Monster - Craig Richards & Transparent Sound Live (Orson)

Running since 1994 via their Transparent Sound Recordings label which dished out electro funk records, this latest double header sees them collaborate with DJ Craig Richards on a live set released by Orson Records.

Conceived as a project to investigate the relationships between DJs, Studio recordings and increasingly used live performance trickeries on laptops etc, the album is split into two discs. The 10 tracks from Transparent Sound are by far the more progressive, even touching on some Detroit hard techno sounds at times. the work of Richards is far more mellow and ambient by contrast. But both manage to successfully demonstrate the way their studio sounds have been augmented and enrichened via their live work.
http://www.myspace.com/orsonrecords

SB


 

Richard Burke – “The Wintered Sea” 

A charmingly hand-scrawled letter accompanied this unassuming collection of lo-fi compositions, which could best be described as the songs of Elliott Smith performed and sung by Jim O’Rourke. Having tasted the sweet fruits of fame supporting Idlewild with a previous band, Richard has recorded this solo album in his bedroom and pressed up a scant 100 copies. With its folksy strumming, echoing guitar overdubs and intimate, analogue warmth, there’s something very sweet and likeable about the whole affair; music made for the simple enjoyment of making music…and shouldn’t that always be the case? There are definitely worse ways to unburden your pockets of Ł6, and I for one feel lucky to be among the few who get to hear this album.
www.myspace.com/richardburke

Will Columbine


 

Es Waves - Nakatomi Plaza (Inaspace)

'Nakatomi Plaza' is truly an epic of a release, weighing at at 2 hours long. Films buffs (or geeks, depending on your perception) will also note that it is the name of the fictional building which formed the setting for the original Die Hard film. Who says tasty fanzine is not educational?

Such a long release is not easy to some up with a few glib words (though when has that stopped us trying before?) but this record is fundamentally ambient trance in make up though occasionally a bit of sporadic breakbeat appears out of nowhere to jiggle things up. Lots of phasing in and out and big echoey atmospheres are one thing but I found this all a bit too prosaic to get excited about.
www.beatport.com/inaspace

SB


 

TV On the Radio – ‘Return To Cookie Mountain’ (4AD) 

TV On The Radios debut EP ‘Young Liars’ was a stunning piece of soul infused electronic pop and became somewhat of an addiction for me for a while. It was simple and pure and featured a stunning a cappella version of the Pixies ‘Mr Grieves that sounds like the sexiest barbershop quartet you ever heard. Then came the debut album ‘Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes’ and with it it felt like something got lost along the way. It was over complicated and clumsy and while there were some fantastic moments on the record it didn’t stand up well to repeat listens. And so with this in mind I approached ‘Cookie Mountain’ with a certain amount of caution, a wish for it to be good but a realisation that it could be a disappointment.

Thankfully ‘Cookie Mountain’ actually proves to be rather a joy to listen to. With this record TVOTR have seemingly remembered what it was that made their first release so great and coupled it with all the finest aspects of the full-length, its air of experimentation and individual sound. We are reminded that Adebimpe has a fine and deeply soulful voice, an aspect often lost in the over complication of ‘Desperate Youth’ and that they can be thoughtful and beautiful songwriters as well as willing to push on and try out new and bold audio textures. It seems to me that TVOTR are firmly back on track.

Luke Drozd


 

Johnny Mental - Pining for the Fjords (Hangmans Joke)

Jesus - what is it with metal bands this month? And not just metal, seriously ear-bleeding stuff. just listening to 'Pining for the Fjords' is making me sweat and reach for the throat lozengers. I prescribe a nice flask of camomile tea and a holiday in Tuscany for Johnny Mental.
www.johnnymental.com

SB


 

Belong – ‘October Language’ (Carpark Records) 

Belong, who hail from New Orleans’s, have produced an album of guitar and digital drone pieces. Tremendously good it is too. If you imagine My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ minus the drums and vocals, then you’re not a long way from the music of Belong. It also reminded me of Fennesz’s excellent album ‘Venice’, or of Bowery Electric. I have a particular soft spot for music of this ilk admittedly, but this is an excellent example of it. The subtle shifts in the wall of noise that Belong create are complete engrossing. It’s hard to discuss music of  this kind without resorting to clichés about the music being like the ebb and flow of the sea etcetera, so I shall leave my description of this album at that. If you’re looking for something to sing along to in the shower, then this isn’t for you. But for fans of My Bloody Valentine, Fennesz and pretty much anything Kranky records put out, this is excellent. Listen to really fucking loud. 

Michael Pearson


 

RSJ - Limited Edition CD (Hangman's Joke)

Holy shit - this is not for the fain hearted. I'm no expert in what I understand the kids are calling 'noise-metal' but this sounds pretty good to me. Despite the cliched graphics, haircuts and facial hair, RSJ don't just churn out nut-crunchingly heavy riffs but their is a certain mastery of dynamics here too. Seriously heavy.
www.rsj.info

SB


 

Envy – ‘Insomniac Doze’ (Rock Action) 

Envy have been playing there own blend of hard-core and post rock for nearly 15 years, now that’s a long time to remain that loud and angry for. For those who haven’t had the absolute pleasure of hearing Envy either on record or in their natural habitat of the live arena, they are one of Japan’s leading independent rock bands treading similar paths to the likes of Mono and Isis. They are band built on intensity and depth and ‘Insomniac Doze’ is certainly no exception. Displaying more of the bands quieter side the perhaps before we are graced with a collection of songs which can be both brutal and gentle in a heartbeat.

All this is not to say that this is by any means a perfect record. There are moments where it seems to repeat itself somewhat and become a little dull but generally it is a record full of a sort of extremely loud hypnosis through rock. Despite its volume it seems quite conceivable to be able to merely get lost in it. It is a record that’s seeped in a pre-sunrise mix of light and dark, an ‘Insomniac doze’ indeed.

Luke Drozd


The Year Zero - Oceania Will Return (Skipping Stones)

The lovely folk at Skipping Stones bring us this CD offering but keep us guessing about the origins of The Year Zero by including the wrong press release in the package! Oh well, just listening is sometimes better anyway.

'Oceania Will Return' is 12 tracks of uncomplicated and mesmerisingly relaxing indie pop. Opener 'Stranger' offers up a bit of a strange off kilter chord progression which gives just the right amount of oddness to it whereas follow up 'Some Great Majesty' is pure unadulterated laid back indie pop. In fact much of this record is so laid back that it is practically horizontal. Airy, whispish vocals combined with phasing and lolling accompiment just flow along without ever really sticking in the mind. 'Anthem' sounds much like the other tracks - expect played backwards (which does at least give it novelty value).

So much like the Cardigans more ponderous moments, this is an album which is lieable enough yet never quite gets under your skin. Nice artwork though.
www.skippingstonesrecords.com/theyearzero

SB


 

Matmos – ‘The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast’ (Matador) 

San Franciscan duo Matmos are certainly boys with a vivid and quite wonderful imagination and what better way to demonstrate this then with their new record, essentially a collection of audio portraits, a series of tracks that drift between genres with an effortless surreal breathe. 

By taking events from the lives of people they admire and then creating a musical representation of it through sampling sounds made by objects that represent that person Matmos have constructed a bizarre, highly conceptual but surprising listenable record. For instance we have ‘Germs Burn For Darby Crash’ which features samples of cries of pain form Matmos’ Drew Daniel having his flesh burned by ex-Germ Don Bolles combined with noises made by M.C. Schmidt having his head shaved. It sounds preposterous but in the hands of these two it works beautifully. But it is their portrait of William Burroughs that seems to stand out. With its electrifying psychedelic ragtime it somehow just seems to fit as an audio tribute to one of literatures more bizarre characters.

Add to this a few star turns (Bjork and Antony Hegarty are two of note) and the commissioned portrait for each track (one of which is penned by the excellent Daniel Clowes) and what Matmos deliver is an album that is both high on concept and content. A surprising and beguiling record indeed.

Luke Drozd


 

Sleep Talker - s/t (Dead Bees)

Formed following the demise of Call Me Loretta who provided one of the album highlights of 2004, Sleep Talker provide a much fuller guitar based sound, mainly because there are three guitars in the band (one of which is an octave guitar which throws up loads of interesting melodies and harmonics with the two standard guitars.) As a consequence, most tracks are very simple to dissect into their constituent parts but build up a really pleasing layered effect of pure guitar lines.

The stated purpose of this album is to be seen as a work in progress where listeners pen their own lyrics to the mainly instrumental tracks, record their vocal track and return to the band for potential inclusion on a latter album. This could be seen as being incredibly inclusive and empowering, super lazy or just plain pretentious. It doesn't matter though really, just sit back and enjoy the music with it's feint Gallic edge and leave the potential starlets to audition for Pop Idol.
www.sleeptalker.free.fr

SB


 

Beatnik Filmstars - In Great Shape 

I honestly thought I was hallucinating when I saw that The Beatnik Filmstars’ album, In Great Shape comprises of 23 songs. It’s fortunate for everyone concerned that those 23 songs are pretty damn good. 

The Beatniks are very particular about labelling themselves as a pop group, which is a shame because their fuzzy guitars, rumbling bass and arrestingly hypnotic vocals lean more towards the rock ideals of The Stone Roses and some of the later work of The Music, and it’s the track, I Eat Healthy Food which embodies this notion the best.  

B.F sound very art-school in their nature; random little samples adorn every track and although largely innocuous and unassuming in their own right, it’s the samples that give the music its depth and staying power.  

Andrew Jarrett knows how to deliver seductive vocals and although his vocal delivery may not be as distinct as some of his contemporaries, his lyrics certainly get under your skin and linger there. 

His cocky and assertively sung ‘who needs a haircut?’ had me sheepishly raising my hand.  

It’s fair to say that In Great Shape is a slow burner. Hell, if an album is packing 23 wonderfully abstract pop/ rock songs, it’s always going to be difficult to take it all in in one listen. The music opens up with every listen; with repeated exposure, the tracks grow in colour and meaning, the words take on more significance and it’s only after a few listens that you really start to appreciate In Great Shape to capacity. 

Fans of the Amused to Death solo work of Roger Waters may well find satisfaction in some of the music here. I Thought I was Shot at in a Drive-By Shooting offers an unashamed stab at the deep-rooted imperfections of English society and it is a recurrent theme in Jarrett’s song writing.  

In Great Shape is a wonderfully diverse album that should be in every music lover’s collection. To an extent, the diversity may be the albums’ downfall. Should The Beatnik Filmstars be selfish and stick to a one-track mind in order to achieve a greater mainstream success? Well, I’ll let you make your own minds up on that one.

Alex Clark


 

The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes (Memphis Industries)

Pop socks-check. Polka dot dresses-check. Alice bands-check. Retro production striving for that Spector Wall of Sound vibe-check. It's all very bubble gum and light hearted from these sisters but I just can't be arsed with it really - have a listen yourselves on their website.
www.thepipettes.co.uk

SB


 

Mission of Burma – ‘The Obliterati’ (Matador) 

Mission of Burma, the original godfathers of post-punk, return! In my mind that statement should cause a wave of cheers to spread like a raging bush fire across the world but alas this, like so much of my life, only happens in my head.

Following on from their return to life in 2004 with the startling good ‘Onoffon’ (their second full length some 22 years after their first) we now have record number three ‘The Obliterati’. ‘Onoffon’ after so many years wishing and waiting was a visceral, joyous beast of a record packing all the same anger and honesty their earlier music had done but with perhaps a more thoughtful side to it as well (particularly through the songs of Clint Conley) and while it was an excellent record elements did grate and have grated more so with repeat listens (Nicotine Bomb in particular has always been a bug bare for me).

With ‘The Obilterati’ Burma continue on this path, widening their net of sound and variety and once again showing there gentle side (‘13’) and it features all the fury and spit ‘Onoffon’ did and then some. Whereas ‘Onoffon’ perhaps let slip that Burma were just getting back into working with each other ‘the Obilterati’ is them as one tight, well-oiled machine working as one and producing what is probably the finest music of their career so far. Ok so it will always be hard if not impossible to top the likes of ‘Academy Fight song’ but there are moments on this record where they come bloody close. Just listen to ‘Donna Sumeria’ a song that is somehow throbbing and loud yet full of beautiful vocal melodies, the almost prog wonder of ‘The Mute Speaks Out’ or the audio sand blasting of ‘Let yourself go’ and you’ll see just what I mean.

‘The Obliterati’ is a document of a band at their finest and is a truly timely reminder to all the new breed of bands taking their influences from the post-punk set that they have a long way to go before they get anywhere near Burma’s coat tails. Spread the word people, I want to hear that wave.

Luke Drozd


 

Breed 77 - In My Blood (Albert Productions)

What to make of this bizarre flamenco-metal crossover of an album? Some promising moments to start, even though it sounds like Breed 77 have found a home for Big Jim Martin and his flying V plus the odd bit of Mike Patton-esque caterwauling. The Spanish influence and the metal do sit surprisingly easily together, mainly because the fast flamenco guitar slots neatly into fast paced chuggy guitar riffs without so much as a time change. 'Remember that Day' works particularly well in this respect. Sadly the latter half of the album begins to wander a bit meaninglessly, the beginning of this degradation signified by the overblown pomposity of 'Look At Me Now'. Maybe time to draw in a few other influences.
See 'In My Blood' E-card

SB


Grizzly Bear - “Horn of Plenty” (rumraket records)

Recently added to WARP records increasingly broad roster of bands. Grizzly Bear are grubby, soft, indie, folk with the necessary electronic flurries and production placed expertly within the music or no electronics at all with other places completely stripped away leaving just guitars and vocals.

This is easily one of the better albums I’ve had the luck to review and a pleasure-if occasionally trying- to listen to (14-track of increasingly similar dynamics can do that).

But from the opening track “Deep Sea Diver” it becomes apparent that there is a growing addictive characteristic the song brings about. Followed by a quality of song like “Fix It” or “Showcase” you realise this really could be a great band at the beginning of their career.

There’s a refreshing emphasis on percussional arrangements and vocals here that draws them away from other bands. Whilst also holding up Songs like “Eavesdropping and This Song” which are very sparse in dynamics.

Horn of Plenty shows a band operating on a well thought out and engineered set of songs. And do it very well indeed. 

Pete W


Dashboard Confessional - Dusk and Summer (Hassle)

My god - this is awful. Adolescent emo rock ballads that are perfectly tailored to fit in with the anodyne radio friendly playlists of MTV2 and commercial radio. Surely a hook up with some piss poor US teen drama like Dawson's Creek or The OC is on the cards? Be gone!
www.dashboardconfessional.com

SB


 

Sufjan Stevens – ‘The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from the Illinois Album’ (Rough Trade)

Believe it or not the behemoth that was Sufjan Stevens ‘Illinois’ wasn’t originally going to settle at its 70 odd minute mark. Oh no, it was intended as a double album of nearly 50 songs but this epic began to weigh heavy on Stevens and common sense meant that it was whittled down to the still less than tiny offering that became that remarkable record. Rummaging back through the recordings he had left from the ‘Illinois’ sessions Stevens found that the material was simply too good to let drift away or crop up on bootlegs and so with the help of many of the illinoisemakers present on the original record he set about salvaging and polishing the best of the material and the result is ‘The Avalanche’.

Those of you who bought the vinyl of ‘Illinois’ will already be familiar with the title track of 'The Avalanche'. Originally destined to be the leading song on ‘Illinois’ it was later included as a bonus on the vinyl release and now returns to open proceedings here and demonstrates Stevens at his finest, a mix of gentle banjo and larger orchestration. From the moment it begins it is clear that merely labelling this collection as outtakes and Extras is selling it (I imagine intentionally) rather short.

Throughout the 21 tracks here we are treated to everything we have come to love from Stevens. Dry wit, intense and emotional beauty (Pittsfield), an impeccable turn of phrase (Saul Bellow) and astonishing arrangements prevail and much of the music, rather than feeling left over from Illinois sounds more like companion tracks. In the same way motifs and melodies seemed to reoccur in the previous, here they seem to have been twisted or altered somehow and allowed to live side by side, a perhaps slightly less grand mirror of Illinois almost. 

‘The Avalanche’ could merely have ended up as a curiosity, a document of a prolific songwriter for us geeks and obsessives to paw over. However what we actually gain is a further insight into the workings and processes of Stevens (just see the three alternate versions of ‘Chicago’ featured here) as well as a record that stands proudly and independently on its own as a genuinely compelling listen. 

Luke Drozd


 

The Zico Chain - s/t (Hassle)

Blimey - the Zico Chain must have been hewn from the same piece of rock as Thursday (see elsewhere in July's reviews). Difference is that they are going at it like a band possessed whereas Thursday sound a bit more like a band coming to the end of their powers. Featuring a Lemmy-like (in voice and bass playing combination, if not looks) vocalist and some serious staccato beats which clatter all over the place there's not a song over 3 minutes which is great for attention deficient reviewers like myself.

Some of the work sounds a little bit cliched like the leaden beated 'Rollover' which could have been a Cult reject and 'Social Suicide' which sounds a bit like the Mission Impossible theme tune cover version. But it's all done with an energy and conviction that makes it difficult to begrudge The Zico Chain some success with this.
www.myspace.com/thezicochain

SB


 

Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You

Cool name, very cool artwork… and that’s about as good as it gets. Puzzles Like You starts off promising with the borrowed signature sound of Marc Bolan for Truck Driving Man, but within seconds, it’s apparent that Mojave 3 are interested in achieving a bright, poppy sound and little more.  

The song titles are evocative and indicative of there being something really special on the way, but the band seldom deliver anything biting or daring, or indeed anything much beyond radio-friendly singalongs. Running With Your Eyes Closed  yields deft song-writing of the Kinks ilk, but it fails by a long shot to match their singular and virtuoso charms. Just a Boy, with its tall vocal reverb nods towards the rockier solo stuff of John Lennon and understandably sounds dated and definitely unoriginal. 

Mojave 3 are signed to Beggar’s Banquet and in keeping with their counterparts – Film School, Calla and Oceansize, the sound of Mojave 3 is often effervescent, occasionally ethereal and largely uplifting. However, because of their reluctance to do something really challenging, Mojave 3 fall short of their Beggar’s peers and on the strength of Puzzles Like You, I really can’t see them leaving us with any kind of legacy or bench-mark to aspire to.

Alex Clark


 

Thursday - A City Divided (Hassle)

The fourth album from Thursday apparently (sorry, I missed the first three) sees a slickly produced screamo-cum-coming of age crossover piece that really flexes its muscles from start to finish. With a sound very similar to the now defunct Kinesis. The masterful balance of quiet and loud provided by producer Dave Friddman is a constant motif through the album but does tend to clip the wings of any really soaring choruses but also stops the slow, ballady sections from sounding too trite.

My favourite track  is 'At This Velocity' which is at the punk-thrash extreme of the album and really mashes up the guitars and drums. But the rest is all pretty samey anthemic rock which is very well done but gets a bit much after nearly an hour's worth.
www.thursday.net

SB


Function - “The Secret Miracle Mountain” (locust music)

“Function is a communally based shape shifting brainchild of Australian native and general globe trotting nomad Matt Nicholson.”

As soon as I cast my eyes upon this sentence followed by “Lush & transcendental experimental rock album recorded in over ten countries.” I had a pain in my guts and realised I hadn’t emptied my tank in two days and my body had decided to offer me a window of opportunity.

I took it. But no sooner had I got myself seated than I began to realise to my absolute horror, there was far too much shit inside, somehow it couldn’t break out. NEEEEEEEE!!!  MPH……HHHNEEEEEEEEE!!!OOOOMPH! DARN IT!!!

There was no way in Leicester any of it was going to shift. So I started to mummify my finger in toilet role and closed my eyes.

I got back to my room just as the album was closing. That’s 16 tracks with an average length of five minutes or over.

So I had approximately an 80-minute inconclusive, horrific experience. 

Pete W


 

Lucinda Sieger - Silver Life (Elsewhen)

I really did set off with the good intentions of giving this a full listen and a fair trial. Sieger is, after all, a talented singer and reasonable song writer. She has also appeared as a co-guest with Ardal O'Hanlon on a Swedish chat show apparently, though I'm not sure how this recommends her music to us.

And sure enough the songs are well produced, Sieger delivers them with clarity (if not any real commitment) and 36 minutes of your precious time are spent listening to a combination of Latin/lounge/ easy listening music. This stuff leaves me completely drained and lacking in any strong thoughts about the music at all. Sorry Lucinda.
www.lucindasieger.com

SB


 

Al Duvall – ‘The Butler’s Revenge’ (V/Vm Test)
Al Duvall-  ‘Coroner and Knives’ (Bootling)  

Ladies and gentlemen, please come closer! That’s it gather round, for you are about to witness the finest in Vaudevillian wonder. Witness Al Duvall and his troupe of skilled players as the recreate all your favourite rags and skiffles about that oh so murky underbelly of society you have heard so much about but can barely believe! Open your ears my friends to salty tales that will pollute your simple minds forever more! Ahh Ha Ha…

Sorry about that. Well as you may have guessed Al Duvall is a gentleman with an ear for music but a mind for the past. On these two titles respectively covering his recordings from the period of 1999 – 2004 he weaves exquisite tales of a world long gone with a generous helping of whimsy and absurdity. The result is a collection of ragtime ditties that sound like they should have been dug up in a sealed crate in the bowery slums, buried in their own time for being far to racy.

In a time where an increasing amount of people are treading a similar musical path and treading it well it would be easy for Duvall to merely be one in the masses. However his ability to spin a truly bizarre yarn coupled with an authentic voice mean that these two releases are elevated to the top of their game. I suggest you grab your hat and cane and get yourself down to the phonograph store forthwith and allow yourself the illicit aural pleasures or Mr. Duvall. Go on now, make haste!

Luke Drozd


Pisco Sour Hour - Drunks and Plastic Knives

Good lord. This sounds like it was recorded in shoe box. Under water. On a dictaphone. It's always tricky to separate the problems associated with self recording from a lack of talent but in this case I am certain that the poor production is strangling some interesting ideas and some very tricksy guitar work.

The alternative of course, is that the band actually wanted it to sound like this. Perhaps striving for that gruff New York underground vibe which maybe comes through a little bit in 'Idiot'. Alternatively, they may be recording guitar that has been played through a very small and slightly knackered practice amp.

There are plenty of very funky basslines staggered across the seven tracks. There are also a number of perhaps misconsidered soulful diversions which, when compared with the brooding menace of 'On This Morning' just seem superfluous to the direction that Pisco Sour Hour could be taking. Sorry, that's enough - my ears are beginning to buzz.
www.piscosourhour.co.uk

SB


 

Claro Intelecto - Warehouse Sessions Volume 3 (Modern Love) 

Warehouse Sessions volume 3 sees Claro Intelecto present the third in a series of stripped-down deep techno releases on Modern Love. Sadly this release doesn’t represent a progression; merely a continuation of the sounds used on the first two warehouse sessions. Even more sadly, the standard has dropped, as if Mr Intelecto is diluting his ideas with each subsequent release. For me personally, this series of releases peaked at volume 1.  

Of the two tunes on this release I’m struggling to choose a favourite. ‘Only Yesterday’ references Mr Fingers’ ‘Can U Feel It’ heavily. I’m not sure why; Mr Fingers, (aka Larry Heard) did this kind of thing back in the mid eighties with so much more emotion and class that to reference it now seems pointless, especially when the results of such homage are soulless and stilted.  

On the flip, ‘X’, takes its inspiration from Basic Channel/Maurizio. Similarly to ‘Only Yesterday’ though, the resultant music seems completely lacking in the elements that made the music of the originators timeless; listening to ‘X’ only makes me want to listen to the artists that created this kind of sound in the first place. I can see that this tune may have a place in a club, the dubbed out echoes could possibly take on a greater significance when played in the correct circumstances (and at a high enough volume) but I want to be able to hear the hook at home as well as in the club. 

Frazer Shelton


 

Underoath - Define the Great Line (Virgin)

11 tracks and I admit I find it difficult to keep up any concentration or interest after the first couple. Unsure how to define this music  - Screamo? Hardcore? There is an impressive array of dynamics and time changes and some very neatly done precision metal riffs. But for all the studio tools such as E-bows and effects pedals which Underoath supposedly employed, there is very little to show for it in terms of different sounds or atmospheres across the album. It remains an unapologetically single paced attack on your ears primarily prompted by the gutteral screams and emo-tones of the vocals. in every track. Too formulaic and ultimately a disappointment.
www.underoath777.com

SB


Barbara Morgenstern - “The Grass is Always Greener” (Monika Enterprise) 

If you like European electronic pop, and I think we all do, then “The Grass is Always Greener” will be a welcome listen.

Based on Barbara’s travels around the world and all in German this sounds like a terrible idea and probably is.

Occasionally with this kind of German cacophony it’s easy to think that you’re listening to a song that should be performed by a Japanese girl band. But with all her compositions in “The Grass…” there is always a hint of something more complex and well crafted.

It might not stand up to a dozen listens but with the opening title track and “Operator” you can be pretty sure there’s a few more worthy songs in here.

However the longer the album goes on, the more clearly it appears that maybe Barbra would do well to move away from this niche market because you will see it really has no lastability in the end.  

Pete W


 

Instant Species - Robert the Bruce's Spider (Is)

The start of Instant Species' 6th album (no less) sets out their stall with no half measures. 'A Warning from the Spider Men sees' a rumbling deathly feedback intro break up into a raga type guitar sciffle number and then back again for the bridge. And the following track 'Waltz in A Minor' is exactly that - a waltz! And unlikely though it may sound, it has a kind of Cold War eastern European gravitas to it that expands into some kind of Cossack-hatted epic.

But all this cross-genre pollination doesn't always produce the expected results. Although ostensibly a sea shanty 'Men of the Sea' is in danger of sounding more at home in a German bierhalle. But 'Go to your Grave in Mexico' in reeks of minds that spent their formative years glued in front of spaghetti westerns.

This end result of this musical schizophrenia will probably be that you will love some tracks like a lost brother and hate others with a passion. And I get the feeling that is exactly what instant Species would like you to do - not ones for sitting on the fence these chaps.
www.instatspecies.co.uk

SB


Gardini Di Maro - “North Atlantic Treaty of Love” (2nd rec)

Italian Post Rock limited edition release, re-release. I think that is what North Atlantic Treaty of Love is. Slightly different however. Post Rock with rapping on with the 2nd track “Little Caesar” which is prime Eurovision material, sadly the guest vocals only appear on this track, before a butchered post rock take of Smog’s “Blood Red Bird”. Without forgetting the post rock dirge that is “Othello” which can only be described as catchy in the sense that a child could have farted out the chorus.

The only reason you could possibly do yourself justice in buying this e.p. Is for the remix from Hood and there cohorts.

Aticon stalwart Alias begins with a remix of “given ground” and I just cant tell if its for better or worse I guess better but any person with half a brain would have lost there will to live by now. Only post rock has this effect on me.  

Pete W