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  albums - december 2006

 


 

Tor Lundvall – Empty City (Strange Fortune) 

Tor Lundvall is a New York based artist who refers to his particular brand of electronic soundscapery as “ghost ambient.” Or maybe his record label does. I hope it’s his record label. This album is, as is much of ambient music, a collection of chimes, echoes, reverberations and clicks. More sound than music. There’s little in the way of melody, instead sounds are layered together to present textures, atmospherics and space. It recalls photos I saw of Chernobyl taken some time after it was deserted, people’s possessions still scattered, signs of day to day life still there, unmoved in years, amongst the rot and decay. It’s this stark and haunting imagery Lundvall is trying to harness on this record. An audio tour of a deserted urban sprawl, it’s nervy and unsettling but with a subtle beauty in the detail which leads you to investigate further.  

He’s not the first artist to tackle urban decay and desertion in electronic music, FSOL did so with ‘Dead Cities’ and as a concept for ambient works the two barely need introducing, it seems natural, as if it was made specifically for the other. Interlocking pieces in a two piece jigsaw. It’s this notion that’s also the albums flaw. It almost seems too simple. Brian Eno, the father of ambient music, said that ambient music “must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” It’s this ambivalence that makes ambient music so hard to write about. If it’s ignorable how can it be interesting? Empty City certainly is ignorable, on first listening five tracks went by before I checked to see how far through the CD I was. It is interesting in places, some sounds are well crafted and gain my fleeting attentions, but on the whole it leaves me completely indifferent; it’s like a shrug of the shoulders.  

It’s this juxtaposition I can’t match up. As a concept album, it succeeds at creating a sonic landscape of a dead city for the listener to explore. There’s not much there, but some things may catch your eye and you’ll study it for a moment or two. But soon you’ll really want to get out of there and on leaving, there’s little to draw you back.  

I read a comment on the record company's website that said “If the the colour grey had a sound, it would be Empty City.” It was meant as a positive, however I’ve formed the same opinion and it’s not positive, it’s not even that negative, it’s just there.

Sweeney

 
 

To-Mera - Transcendental (Candlelight)

I'm sure if you re-arrange the letters in 'To-Mera' and 'Transcendental' you would get something that looked a bit like 'Evanescence' but wasn't. maybe that's a bit simplistic, likening one female fronted rock band with another on the basis of their gender. To-Mera are much more abstract than that. From the opening of 'Traces' to the weird jazz breakdown in 'Obscure Oblivion', the tracks are constantly cut up with changes in tempo and delivery.

There is some fine chuggy rock riffing, a number of great drum solos and some nice keyboard parts which break up the guitars and layer a bit of atmosphere to proceedings. Where things fall down for me is the juxtaposition of all this with Julie Kiss' airy vocals. Kiss (don't snigger) has an engaging operatic style voice but this never really connects with the music that is supposedly built around her lyrics. For example, the jagged guitars and harsh beats are completely at odds with the lounge style vocals in 'Phantoms', or at least are unable to keep up with the changes in tempo and tone as the various guitar parts come together. This just leaves the whole thing sounding like a German radio station broadcasting The Barber of Seville drifting in over Alan Freeman's Rock Hour on long wave. Kiss is constant in her delivery whereas the only thing constant about the rest of the band is their unwillingness to stick with anything for longer than a few bars. Nearly very good but ultimately a frustrating disappointment.
www.to-mera.com

SB

 
 

Various - Digital Northerner Volume Two (Fat Northerner)

Fat Northerner have been providing Tasty with a constant stream of interesting new stuff for the last few months and this compilation puts together a wonderful selection of dance and electronica tracks that have been getting the Fat Northerner's beer bellies in a flap.

Highlights include little known The Future's 'Fifteen Seconds of Fire' and 'Ward X' which pulsate between jiggling electro harmonies and full-on skin thwacking percussion to build tracks that sound as familiar as they sound exciting. The Clerks are altogether moodier and more indie rock than dance/electronica I would argue. Using a vocoder or singing through a megaphone does not electro make but 'Dissident' is a good enough track to excuse anyway. So Earl dispels any lingering doubts about the mood of the album and injects a welcome dose of unadulterated sleezy electro glamour in the style of The Soho Dolls or Client.

Favourites Schmoo get two bites of the cherry with their atmospheric dance beats leaving just enough time to relax with the much more laid back Moth Hi Fi and lo-fi dub beats of Worm is Green. Perfect.
www.fatnortherner.com

SB

 
 

Hardcore Superstar - s/t (Candlelight)

Hardcore Superstar superstar formed in Gothenburg in 1997. I've been to Gothenburg. Apart from lurching across the North Sea in a barely sea worthy junk in the height of a winter storm, there was another thing about Gothenburg which made me slightly uncomfortable - the unbelievably high prevalence of rock bars and leather wearing geezers who looked ready to kick your ass if you so much as looked at their Volvo. Furthermore every bar and club had airport metal detectors which you had to pass through to prove you weren't carrying any weapons - most unsettling. So it is to this backdrop that these doughty Scandinavians have forged a career churning out hard rock, the likes of which you will see from support acts for Iron Maiden and Guns n Roses.

All well and good and if this is your niche then you'll get exactly the right hit of squealing guitars and chugging choruses. Personally I think it all sounds a bit dated and unimaginative but I'm damn sure that I'm not going to criticise a Gothenburger too harshly.
www.hardcoresuperstar.com

SB

 
 

Gypsophile- “Assunta” 

Gypsophile are a Parisian based 5 piece who appear to be a well seasoned group of musicians having released five albums on three different continents. This effort, ‘Assunta’, tries to translate their style of what they call ‘chanson free’ (somehow, I’m thinking they don’t mean ‘this album is free of songs’), and more or less communicates as Melancholic Acousto-Jazz. 

The album really takes off when it makes use of fuller arrangements, like the track ‘Marthe’ where drums seem to add a more exciting element and gives way to the ‘jazz freefall’ style they’re trying to achieve. ‘Far, Geneva’ was the most instantly likeable track, as it had a bigger sound and was more erratic. It also gets more interesting the more experimental they get in songs like ‘Kiffa’, and ‘Vanderlin’ seems to combine the jazz and acoustic elements of the band by switching the song halfway through. The final epic ‘La Vie Intense’ deserves a mention for its style, lyric and tangibility.  

What immediately sprang to mind on first listen is this is the kind of album you would put on in two situations; either with the post-coital cigarette or wallowing in drunken melancholy. Though it has its moments, ‘Assunta’ suffers from sounding same-y because of the acoustic guitar works on 8 or 10 note riffs that are hard to differentiate between the songs. I would like to see Gypsophile really indulge in their artistic, experimental side, or to concentrate on writing beautiful, smooth, well constructed acoustic arrangements. This midway point between the two makes it sound a bit ‘prog-jazz’- as if Pink Floyd got stuck in a French beatnik club in the 50s and had to make do with the instruments that were there. 

Not necessarily in a bad way, though. Gypsophile do manage to make use of electronic elements and interesting noises that set the music off. The really optimistic point of this album is that Gypsophile obviously have an ear to create something different, and fusing traditional guitar musicianship with spontaneous drumming and erratic clanging makes for entertaining listening.  

Beautiful arrangements, and very well thought out additions of backwards chiming and beeps, I couldn’t help but think they could make more of the sound they have by making all the sounds work in unison instead of having them as an accompaniment to the acoustic guitar that was very much at the fore. I’d hate to say this to a band that’ve already put out 6 albums, but you have the potential to be so much better. That said, it was great to hear something interesting coming out of France that wasn’t the Serge Gainsbourg/ Mylene Farmer/ Alizee faff.  

Good album if you’re planning to get laid, have a traumatic, drunken break up from said lay in the near future, or those who regularly play open mic nights and want to appear cultured to their significant other.
www.gypsophile.com

Allan Taylor

 
 

Born Ruffians - Piecing It Together EP (XL Recordings)

Once, about a decade ago, when I was on a tour of a cheese factory somewhere in darkest north Wales, I was ushered into a poky little room and presented with a huge vat of cream that had a machine looming over it, throwing a multitude of busy arms deep into the gloop to keep it in constant motion. When I peered inside the vat and sneezed violently into the mixture (believe me, I was as shocked as anyone) I was invited to spend the remainder of the tour locked inside my parents car.    

From there, I watched as the azure blue sky filled with storm clouds in a matter of minutes. Whilst this was going on, the elderly man doing odd jobs in the car park grew increasingly nervous; the colour drained from his face and his spadework became erratic. When the first clap of thunder peeled mournfully through the air above, the old boy shrieked and threw his arms in the air. His spade left his grip and traveled the full length of the car park before slamming excitingly into the bonnet of somebody's car. Without acknowledging the damage he caused, the old man ran madly into the nearby woods and never returned. 

What's the point of this story? Well, there isn’t one really. It's just that I feel in a position to waste your time because that's certainly what Born Ruffians would be doing if you gave them half a chance.  

Here we have an EP in which Born Ruffians have had six chances to impress and offered no more than six lazy stabs at contemporary indie music. Very boring indeed, it passes by quite unremarkably. 

Alex Clark

 
 

Black Strobe - A Remix Selection (Playlouder)

Forming a retrospective of Blackstrobe's earlier remixes ahead of the debut release early next year, A Remix Selection has a distinctly Warpy flavour to it. There is also quite a defined aggressive techno edge to much of this, non more so than in Tiefschwarz's 'Ghost Track'.

There's a neat bleepy yet slightly camp disco remix of The Rapture's Sister Saviour' and Depeche Mode's 'Something to Do' gets a severe reworking in a slightly more acid house style than other tracks on the album. 'A Remix Selection' makes for splendid nostalgic listening and hopefully offers a glimpse of what will be to come from Blackstrobe in 2007.
www.blackstrobe.com

SB

 
 

:( - First Blood (Must Destroy)

Aberdeens' [colonopenbracket] fuse the two unlikely bedmates of 8-bit Casiocore and emo. It's a choppy, bubbly version of Casiocore and a slightly less wristband waving form of emo but loosely speaking that is where :) come from. I found the first couple of tracks pretty difficult listening and then realised the CD was knackered and was just skipping all over the place - some times you can be too open minded.
www.colonopenbracket.com

SB 

 
 

Various - Future Love Songs (Angular Recording Corporation)

It would be easy to mistake Angular as a statement or manifesto rather than just a label name on the basis of a lot of the tracks on this compilation album. Twisted Charm's jerk pop 'Happy Alone' (previously the B-side to 'Boring Lifestyles') kicks things off and sets the tone which much of the remainder follows. Even the 8-bit shenanigans of To My Boy are tinged with an angular edge. The Long Blondes continue their rapid ascent to hyper cool glam new wave icons and The Violets let rip with bass heavy new wave reminiscent of late 70's New York sounds. All achingly cool.

So good though all this is, the highlights come in the tracks that dare to break the mould such as The Lodger who seem to have developed a hammed-up Yorkshire accent to accompany their pristine ringing guitar sound. The Vinchy Government also stand out from the crowd with their deadpan spoken word observations on 'Elvis and the Beatles', a bit like a lo-fi cross between David Byrne and The Bobby McGees. But the best is saved for last with the ghostly tones of Mitten's 'Poveri Rovinatori' providing the bare bones accompaniment to a very minimal strummed guitar chord part - eerily good.

So no problem with quality here from Angular, just a little bit more variety would have been nice.

SB

 
 

Cancer Bats – Birthing The Giant (Hassle)

Rock'n roll. Some want it, some don't. Some got it, some ain't.

Appearing out of a dark cave somewhere in Toronto, Canada in 2004, these guys may have only existed for a couple of years, yet they've already toured all over the US, Canada and Europe with heavyweights such as Every Time I Die and Alexisonfire. So they must be doing something right, right? Well there's a definite air of excitement about this band; the name's been steadily drifting across the Atlantic over the past year and finally I get to put a sound to the name.

Cancer Bats were formed by singer Liam Cormier and guitarist Scott Middleton (and later joined by bassist Andrew McCracken and drummer Mike Peters), who wanted to start a band that played to their influences, which include such monsters as Black Flag, Refused, and Down. And funnily enough, that's exactly what they sound like! They manage to mix non-stop hardcore intensity with down-tuned, whiskey drenched southern rock, while always retaining their own definite identity.

Kicking off with a fast-paced rock'n roll intro, "Golden Tanks" shifts from Motorhead to Snapcase without even blinking. As the guitar tears into "French Immersion" and Liam exclaims "Let's do this!!" at the top of his voice, you know they're not here to mess about. "Grenades" is an unadulterated punk rock explosion, and is a definite highlight on the album, with its intensely catchy riffs and uncompromising rock'n roll roar. It doesn't stop there, either. "Shillelagh" is an absolute beast, with an opening sludge-caked riff the size of Canada, and a mighty "Hell yeah!" added for good measure. Gavin Brown (Three Days Grace, Billy Talent) handles the production well, and brings a warmth to the sound that really accentuates the intensity of the music.

The sheer strength of the first four songs does however make the rest of the album sound slightly repetitive upon first listen. But fear not, the remainder of the album is far from weak. "Birthing the Giant" is not necessarily a "grower", but it's one of those albums that seems to get better every time I listen to it. To be honest I fully expected Liam's vocals to grate my nerves after a while, perhaps to the point of making the album sound bland and samey, but the sheer energy he brings to the band makes the whole thing work. Maybe it's just me, but it also sounds like he's having a lot of fun shouting his head off.

Sure, they are by no means the first outfit to try the rock'n roll/hardcore hybrid. But none in recent times (in my humble opinion) have hit the nail quite as hard on the head as these four Canadians. Without the quirky garage rock leanings of Every Time I Die, or the sometimes-indistinguishable repertoire of The Bronx, Cancer Bats manage to press all the right buttons. In the same ways that aforementioned bands failed to endear me to their music, Cancer Bats have triumphed. The aptly named "Birthing the Giant" brings to mind The Exploited's "Beat The Bastards", not musically or lyrically maybe (bear with me), but in the sense that it doesn't relent once. Literally. This is unadulterated hardcore punk rock at its finest. No melodic vocals. No experimentation. No fucking about. Just 40 minutes of reckless, southern fried rock'n roll.

The 'Bats are here for your blood, with a razor sharp bite of hardcore encrusted rock'n roll energy that brings to mind refused at their most intense, and a deluge of down-tuned riffs that'll keep you headbanging for hours. There's no wheel being reinvented here but who cares, because you can tell they're just here to play some pissed off punk rock music, and have a damn good time along the way.

Rock'n roll. Cancer Bats want it. And hell yeah do they have it.
www.cancerbats.com

Jim Parry

 
 

This Et Al - Baby Machine

It seems like This Et Al have been around for ages yet it was a bit of a surprise to learn that this release is their first album. But whereas some bands seem to be in a massive rush to get an album out and ultimately disappoint, 'Baby Machine' is the direct opposite of this - a slowly but perfectly crafted distillation of all the ideas that we have seen This Et Al gradually unleash over the last couple of years.

Opening track 'The Loveliest Alarm' is the perfect curtain raise and manages to seductively display all the charms of the classic T.E.A. sound - twinkling clean guitars which get destroyed by the brutal wall of noise that is as apocalyptic as some of the content matter which the songs portray; machine gun snare drums that hammer out a call to arms and a wailing vocal that can both uplift and distress.

Recorded entirely on analogue, the album features all the atmosphere you would expect from a Richard Green production; stacks of reverb and echo, massive choruses offset with the gentlest of verses and bridges, all of which lends it perfectly to This Et Al. It's also a massive grower of an album. After the first few listens I wasn't so sure that I liked this wider, cinematic production which was pretty far removed from some of the earlier Ghost Town stuff. On the likes of 'Wardens' the single a marvellous claustrophobic immediacy which sounded like the whole band exploding out of your headphones. The Richard Green treatment has turned this on its head but not in a bad way - it has just provided a whole new way of looking at a great song.

It is also staggering how many quality singles T.E.A. have already managed to squeeze out before releasing 'Baby Machine'. 'He Shoots Presidents' and 'Catscan' still sound great and I'm totally in love with the way that 'Sabbatical' descends into a chaotic ball of booming baggy guitar chords for the chorus - awesome.

There is no weak link here and album closer 'Transmits The Ends' is a suitably grandiose five and a half minute epic of tumbling drums breaks, jagged guitar lines and constantly changing emotion. They may not have had the exposure or the instant success of some of their local contemporaries in Leeds, but on this evidence This Et Al have the will, the weapons and the worthiness to achieve whatever they desire.
www.thisetal.com

SB

 
 

Mittens on Strings - 'Look Up The Sky' (Emperor Jones) 

From the first thwack of deep drum to the last flecks of distant banjo this is a very enjoyable ride. Wearing its heart on its sleeve 'Look Up The Sky' is a tapestry of pop beauty held together with a country tinged weave. The seemingly fluffly mood is often cut through on repeated listens as a darker content is revealed elevating the album to a higher and more serious level as the poppy outer shell is cracked to reveal once hidden depths.

Ed Newton

 
 

Faux Pas – Entropy Begins At Home (Independent/Self Released) 

This is possibly, I don’t like to commit as I have a short memory, but it’s possibly the best album title I’ve seen this year. Faux Pas is 25 year old Australian Tim Shiel and his work can be likened to that of fellow Australian sample mungers, The Avalanches, who I believe hold the world record for most samples on an album... but anyway, this album is pretty sample heavy itself, ranging from jazz and 60s soundtrack/film score orchestral to afrobeat and electro. The cut up nature and range of samples used makes me feel like Faux Pas is DJ Shadow ‘light.’ It’s not quite as moody or aggressive as some of Shadow’s work, which could cheapen the record, I mean it certainly isn’t anything new or particularly interesting, but I can’t deny it’s well crafted and pretty easy on the ear.  

It goes by pretty quickly, eight tracks in 35 minutes and as it’s not greatly engaging it makes pleasant background music. I would however pick out, ‘Water Into Wine’ as the exception that proves the rule; a lulling, twinkling, fragile piece with an old folksy vocal, swathes of violins and some dreamlike electronics. It’s like sleeping with a smile. There’s also ‘For The Trees,’ a decent up tempo cut and paste job that sounds like a day trip to a theme park and ‘The New Underground’ which is all a bit film noir before there’s a massive horn wail that smacks you in the face, drops out, does it again a bit later then stops abruptly. 

Overall, ‘Entropy Begins At Home’ is well produced, crafted and easy on the ear. It’s enjoyable and consistent without ever getting too involving. I guess its only problem is that it’s about four or five years too late. But if you try not to think of it’s forefathers and listen to it on its own merits, it’s well worth a listen. It’s available from iamfauxpas.com, itunes & Norman Records.

MS

 
 

Strap The Button – Going To Jib Choons (Choons For Going To Jib Like Innit)

Going To Jib Choons (Choons For Going To Jib Like Innit):
Godspeed You! Black Emperor get ramblingly drunk. They stagger out of their disused submarine (or whatever else it is they live in) and accidentally stumble upon civilisation – a small cluster of big houses. One of the houses belongs to Pink Floyd who’ve just popped out to present some He-Man figurines to John Zorn as a gift, haplessly leaving the door ajar as they left. Godspeed creep inside and proceed to rob the Floyd’s liquor cabinet. Whilst doing so one of them spies a selection of DVDs and tiptoes over to inspect them more closely. But all of a sudden a mighty roar fills the house - David Gilmour is back and has stubbed his toe on the way in. Godspeed scarper, hastily pinching a Twin Peaks DVD boxset, several Angelo Badalamenti CDs and a bright pink effigy of Thom Yorke as they flee. From the window of a neighbouring house, CocoRosie gleefully look on whilst playing the spoons.

Once back at the submarine, the comrades resolve to watch Twin Peaks and drink to the point of incapability. Soon, one of them drunkenly reveals his secret desire to record ‘a really psychedelic sci-fi movie soundtrack’ and the others declare this to be a smashing idea, so, armed with lashings of Laura Palmer soundbites and obscure non-instruments, they hop straight to it. And so to bed. When morning breaks, Godspeed play back the evening’s recording. They are horrified, but decide that it is ‘fun’ and full of ideas and so they fondly store it for posterity, and just in case they have to go to jib.

The End.

Dripping with many disparate and seemingly incompatible influences, Going To Jib Choons…. was always going to be pretentious and scrappy. But art-school pratting about aside, there is much here to suggest that Strap The Button ought definitely to carry on with their sonic experimentation. Playful and serious in equal measure, the band possesses a seemingly boundless ambition, and the moments where that ambition is successfully channelled demonstrate huge potential. Going To Jib Choons…swings wildly between the experimental and the derivative - a sizeable section of the album draws a little too heavily upon the work of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch. Yet Strap The Button are one of those bands who threaten to release a great record any minute now, and, given their tender ages, they’ve plenty of time to be getting on with it.

Sam Edwards

 
 

Moonshot – Uncertain Weather

Full marks to this band for the D.I.Y. ethic. Although currently unsigned, they’ve still managed to record their own album and make it available to buy on their website in a rather professional manner. It’s hard to work out what to make of Uncertain Weather. I Dream of Daylight is, quite frankly a shambles, with an odd spoken word part and practically no instrumentation at all. Lust Part II, however, pulls of eeriness exceedingly well, and is a song that would have you jumping at the shadows if you are listening to it by yourself. At times the band’s (sorry, “collective’s”) ego seems to run away with them and they wander off into the realms of pressing too many buttons and cramming too much into one track. Bring them back though, and it sounds like they’ve got a decent song or two in them (Crystal Mighty could be a cracking syth/electronic piece if they stayed on track). Get them a record deal and a bit of guidance and we could see great things.
www.moonshotmusic.com

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Various- The Best KIDS Christmas Album in the World…Ever Ever Ever!!! (KIDS) 

I approach all Christmas albums with some trepidation. Especially ones with the word ever in the title. In my experience no good can ever come of them. But luckily, this album has come to change my mind and to save me from listening to Mariah Carey this Christmas.

The KIDS Christmas album is a tongue in cheek whistle stop tour through festive jingles old and new. Merry Christmas Everybody features anyone and everyone who happened to be hanging around the studio, with label staff singing alongside Paper Cuts. Sadly some artists had a few too many swigs of the cooking sherry, and there are a couple of turkeys (sorry) on this album. Findlay Brown can’t resist going all sentimental on his track, White Christmas. Unfortunately he doesn’t really pull it off and it sounds like he’s crying into his sprouts. And Captain Kidd’s Boxing Day Ride is reminiscent of the feeling you get when you’ve eaten too much- slow and sluggish, with a few jingle bells shoved in for good measure.

On the whole though, this album is full of Christmas crackers (again, sorry). The Wombat’s self penned Is This Christmas? is a fabulous alternative carol for indie kids everywhere this festive season, with  brilliant  references to Back to the Future and mum’s dodgy cooking. And full respect to Sam Elliot, who manages to turn the sick making Walking in the Air into a beautiful melancholic track by mixing it with White Christmas.

This is the only Christmas album you need from now on. Leave the others well alone.
www.myspace.com/kidsrecords

Catriona Boyle

 
 

The Take – Dolomite (Bombed Out)

Ten years ago, The Take might have been huge. They've enjoyed relative success as it is, this being their second full length album (their debut "Propeller" being released on Household Name records), but one quick reminiscence back to my college days and the scores of modern rock bands tearing up the airwaves makes me think they've arrived with their sophomore album a few years too late. It's not like there are any rules here (or a lack of people still listening to this style of music) but maybe it's one of the reasons why The Take have gone almost unnoticed by many, while the seemingly superficial record industry follows trends instead of talent.

Dolomite is a mixed bag of fast paced, grunge-esque riffing and laid back, post-*insert genre here* doodling. "Leather Jacket" and should-be-radio-hit "Sample Life" bring to mind 90s era Foo Fighters, and are the kind of raw, straight to the point rock songs that make The Take so listenable. To be honest though, the next few tracks fail to keep me interested. The slower numbers tend to drift into nothingness, and don't really add much of value. When the band decide they want to pick up the pace however, they do so effortlessly and with style. "Handshakes" is a perfect example of what The Take need more of: melody driven, balls out rock music. When the drums kick in they really stand out, and the vocals fit the raw sound of the band perfectly.

Although the CD is a regular customer in my stereo at the moment, I find myself constantly skipping through to the all-out rock songs. Dolomite is on the whole a solid effort from the four Welshmen, and I'd like to see them getting the recognition they deserve in the near future.
www.the-take.net

Jim Parry

 
 

Contriva - Separate Chambers (Morr Music)

Here we have an album of light jazz from a German band that need only a mind of dreams and a hermetic vision of music to see them on their way. Contriva are the antithesis of the German stereotype. There's nothing industrious about the sound of Separate Chambers; in fact you could imagine these four friends taking inspiration for their work strolling through an orchard at twilight, or sitting on the banks of a low river at high summer, gazing to the other side at children singing their songs and playing their games. No, there's nothing rushed or hurried about Separate Chambers. It's not lounge jazz; I hate that term -- it inspires such mediocrity and tends to come from the mouths of wooden men with nothing greater to add in the way of criticism. Here is a body of work that's soulful, jovial, meandering and as sweet as wine drunk beneath midnight on a buddy's veranda.  

Don't expect too much in the way of charisma; there's nothing here to bend your knees to in anger, but just listen to it first thing on Sunday morning with a gently napping partner in your arms. Believe me, nothing else on earth will be worth the time of day.

Alex Clark

 
 

Entrance - Prayer of Death (TeePee Records) 

All right people; I think we've a new Jim Morrison here in Guy Blakeslee. From the get go with Grim Reaper Blues, Blakeslee begins his onslaught with a barrage of wailing blues and hysterical drones to the sound of a throbbing bass guitar and equally urgent electric slide guitar.  

Blakeslee is a man not so much concerned with the idea of mortality, but who rejoices tangibly in the sheer ludicrous inevitability of it all. To say that he embraces death would be wasteful; the man lusts after that assured moment of slipping into the dark and his penchant for delivering his words with the subtlety of a screaming orgasm is testimony to that.   

The song that shares its name with the title of this album is a sumptuous song of acceptance and it's tempting to think that Blakeslee wrote this song as a partial self-authored eulogy. I'm sure the man believes every word sings; he pours everything he has into the song and it bleeds of finality. I wonder if the man half-expects (hopes?) to fall into the almighty sleep at the songs' closure?  

Religious rock has a knack of being inexplicably riveting (Spirit in the Sky anyone?) and Guy Blakeslee's Entrance are an exemplary component of the consistency. The band share nothing in common with the musicians whose vulgar ignorance to good music and 'pop' music pandering will ensure them a very short stay in our hearts. Entrance may never reach out to the widest audiences, but they have the power to burn into the souls of those with open minds. The sitars with their incandescent tunes conversing with the tabla players and the down-tuned electric guitars noodling away mindlessly, headed by Guy Blakeslee's beguiling lyrics make for a very powerful and endearing listen, indeed.  

Entrance may be a slightly peculiar name for a band with a near obsession in the great beyond, but just lend yourself to their music for an hour or so. It soon makes perfect sense…
www.teepeerecords.com

Alex Clark

 
 

Welcome - Sirs (Fat Cat Records)

Welcome sound like a young band hell bent on bringing to life the sound of yesteryears heroes - Syd Barrett-era-Pink Floyd; the Beatles; MC5, you know the type. Only like typical students, they sound as though they’ve beaten a considerable path towards their target before simply losing interest and embarking on a more self-indulgent, fuck the expectations route. What we have here is an album that sounds like a crash of Syd Barrett's atonal guitar noodling with a whole platter of odd, interesting and, honestly, ambiguous sounds thrown into the mixing pot.

The vocals come with no real charm, Pete Brand and Jo Claxton perhaps believe that the best thing to do is sit back with something tried and tested and proven. The vocals mostly sounds like they come from whassizz-face with Greenday (his name will come to me one day) and it's left to the band to provide the art and the more salubrious moments. As well as the ululating FX soaked guitars, there's also some quirky and interesting down-tuned guitar offerings that with the linear drums and bass, put me in mind of a speeding car with a flat tire.

This album's one for the collection; there's no doubting that, but I feel as though you're likely to one day fish it out of the back of a drawer and wonder where the hell it came from. You'll swear you've never heard it before and as controlled by the divine puppeteer, you'll send it swiftly back to whence it came.

Alex Clark

 

Mr Scruff’s Big Chill Classics (The Big Chill Recordings) 

The Big Chill Festival was founded around 1994 and has grown from a small Sunday all-dayer in Islington to the current incarnation held at Eastnor Castle Deer Park in Herefordshire, an event that last year attracted 29,000 revellers. Long respected for its forward thinking approach to artist programming, the Big Chill has played host to any number of established and soon to be established artists. Mr Scruff has been a part of the Big Chill line-up for over ten years now and with this two disc compilation he, in his own words, ‘sums up (his) vision of the festival’. 

Very few things really stood out on this compilation for me. It is pretty eclectic, and as such never really falls into one groove or feeling for too long. For example, Treva Whateva’s ‘Music’s Made of Memories’, a lovely, thoughtful, ultimately downbeat tune is followed by the upbeat reggae of The In Crowd’s ‘Back a Yard’. This is pretty much par for the course for both of the discs on offer with Mr Scruff going back over thirty years to demonstrate what he thinks the Big Chill festival is all about. A favourite for me is Ernesto’s ‘Devil’s Gotta Run’ on disc two, starting like a pretty standard blues tune but flipping into an interesting electronic/blues hybrid partway through, twisted electronic bass noises perfectly complementing the impassioned, soulful vocal.  

Other than that I found the compilation to be fairly uninspiring; the term ‘jazz wank’ (is this even a term?) kept popping into my head whilst listening to this compilation, there’s way too much noodling going on for the most part for me to really ‘get it’. I whacked it on one Sunday afternoon on one of the rare occasions I wanted something on in the background that I didn’t have to make too much effort to get into. It worked in this context, making me think that this is perhaps a compilation that might be best used as a way to discover artists you previously might not have come across. I’ll certainly be investigating certain artists from this release a little further, just not very many of them. 

Frazer Shelton

 

Arctic Hospital – Citystream (Narita) 

Eric Bray’s debut album as Arctic Hospital brings together a number of 12” releases from the past couple of years and attempts to order them into a cohesive whole. Having previously bought some of the music on this album on 12” I was pretty sure what to expect; crunchy, crisp techno and ambient, floating quietness. This is exactly what I got. 

I keep listening to Citystream and expecting for it to grab me but I seem to still be waiting. Perhaps the massive increase in popularity of this type of music has dulled my ears to this sound, I’m sure that two years ago I would have been all over this record like a particularly enthusiastic rash. Such is the change in my listening tastes over the past year or so, I’m much more comfortable with the ambient cuts on Citystream: ‘Rotating Water’ was the tune that first prompted me to purchase any of Arctic Hospital’s music. It’s amazing, like all the very best beatless, ambient music it really creates a pervasive mood of calm whilst retaining enough depth to keep it interesting. 

I find the 4/4 techno on this album too ‘busy’. Layer after layer of percussion and synths are added to each tune until there’s just too much going on. Further than this I found little to differentiate the 4/4 tunes from each other, which doesn’t help to make the album stand out at all. In short, it bores me. 

The rise of ‘minimal’ techno as the discerning (read ‘fashion-led’), clubbers’ choice of night time soundtrack has a lot to answer for.  

Frazer Shelton

 
 

Various - A Very Cherry Christmas 2 (Cherryade)

Another Christmas compilation but probably not like you are used to. Finest purveyors of the off-kilter and leftfield, Cherryade Music have assembled a massive 22 tracks from their favourite artists. Now I don't want to make you sob into your mince pies but it would be fair to say that there is a large proportion of tracks which are dedicated to suffering and the unfortunate at Christmas. Not in a self indulgent sniffly way but more a case of the artists showing a social conscience - hallelujah!

Not so for Thee Cats Pajamas' 'I Love You Santa' which may have that good old fashioned Christmas gooeyness about the title but is actually two and half minutes of industrial techno noise - superb! Other highlights include the ever fabulous Bobby McGees and their track 'God Save the Queen's Speech' - an slightly eerie layering of Jimmy and El's vocals over a boingy but minimal bassline. Jocky Venkataraman disguises a vicious message within his carol singer delivery and despite it's tinkly Christmas bell melody, Paul Hawkins recounts getting divorced at Christmas - very jolly. But after an hour of sleigh bells and twinkliness I am wearing a little thin on Christmas cheer and can only skip through the last few tracks. There is a bit too much of artists just having a jolly good knees up around a four-track just to knock out a tune to make this a truly memorable compilation. Dawn of the Replicants being a case in point - doing a quite faithful but slightly ragged version of 'Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time'. Could make it as a seasonal stocking filler next to the latest X-Factor DVD but like left over turkey on Boxing Day, you may be looking for something else pretty quickly. Bah humbug!
www.cherryademusic.co.uk

SB