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  albums - march 2007

 

 

Various Artists - Baby I'm Yours (A shimmering collection of angelic Independent London Indie) (DC Baby)

Wearing its heart on its sleeve (quite literally), this record brings together the best of London's independent rock acts, takes their collective pulse and shows the capital's music scene to be in rather damn fine health thank you ma'am.

The appropriately titled first song, 'London's Alright' from the Tacticians, sets a high standard with vocals reminiscent of a young Neil Finn and a bright melody adding up to a bit of an indie-pop classic. On 'Soup', the smartly named Daddy Long Legs push the boat out with clever chord twists and a gloriously funky hook that springs from nowhere. At only two and a half minutes, this group certainly leave you wanting more.

The Dirty Feel summon images of Godzilla stamping through London sneering 'Talk In the City' with their bombastic sound of heavy drums and grunge guitars. But be prepared for a surprise as this monster comes over all cuddly and sits down for a clap-along outro after little more than two minutes. The guitar licks on The Lygers 'This Little Place' are similarly memorable, although a messy solo spoils an otherwise sublime effort which could sit happily on either Razorlight album.

Elsewhere, the bands that dare to add other instruments to the mix are the most successful. The contrast between the male and female voices on 'Rebeca said' provides welcome respite from the chiming guitars, The Rebecas even managing to incorporate the line 'She sells sea shells' into their laid-back tune. The Red Stars push the envelope further by combining a synth that runs around like a naughty child with the lyrics of John Lennon: "I know that I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one". And somehow it charms you in a Magic Numbers-like way.

The only disappointments are Via Satellite's 'So Excited' in which the singer sounds anything but and the low-key closing track 'A Day Like This' from The Kissing Time. Those two tracks aside, however, this is a strong collection that showcases the breadth and depth of independent music in London and should encourage plenty of listeners to get down to one of the Capital's live music venues pronto.
www.dcbabyrecords.co.uk

Chris McCague

 

LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (EMI) 

The path from Punk to Dance music is one well trodden, going back to New Order, Talking Heads and PiL. Both musical styles share driving beats, a compulsion to move to the music and a do-it-yourself attitude. Garage bands and bedroom DJs/ knob-twiddlers (not that kind!) are similar in outlook and over the last few years the dance punk scene has re-emerged with bands such as ‘!!!’, bloc party and The Rapture. 

As with most movements, there’s been a lot of crud, but one of the better examples of the genre was released in 2005, with LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous debut album. Like Scritti Politti or Aphex Twin, LCD Soundsystem is an alias for one man, James Murphy. Having played in punk bands and worked as a dance producer/remixer for his Death From Above label it’s only natural his band would combine the two, which he did to great effect. The first album had elements of techno, house, funk and punky scuzz, combined with intelligent, humorous lyrics that went beyond the norm for the style. Now, almost two years later, we have the follow-up, ‘Sound of Silver’. 

Once again, we have a mix of styles, fluently blended into a new whole. The furious piano of ‘All My Friends’, the funk of ‘Time To Get Away’, even an 80’s electro-ballad in ‘Someone Great’. The lyrics continue to impress, with Murphy’s tangled lament/tribute to his adopted home city in the ballad ‘New York, I Love You’, the confrontation of xenophobia on the current single ‘North American Scum’ and the nostalgia-bashing of ‘Sound of Silver’. Dance music with brains, which makes a pleasant change. 

The album contains some great songs, and easily matches the first in quality. My only niggling doubt, and perhaps this is unfair as a criticism, is that it doesn’t have the ‘wow-factor’ that I experienced on first hearing the debut album. With ‘LCD Soundsystem’ I had no preconceptions and the freshness of the music blew me away. With ‘Sound of Silver’ I was really looking forward to hearing it and although it’s easily as good as its predecessor, I missed that buzz. But if you don’t get as giddily pre-hyped as I did you’ll be amply rewarded with an album that, despite my whingeing, I haven’t been able to stop playing since I got it.

Mat Latham

 
 

Ben Marwood vs. Heartwear Process – Hold Your Breath / Swallow My Tooth (Broken Tail Records)

The folks at Broken Tail Records are very nice people (a fickle conclusion I have reached only by reading their press pack and pretending that we are all running through lavender-scented fields together) and from their debut release they seem to know good things when they see them. Although quite different from one another, the two artists on the single sit well side-by-side and the transition between Ben Marwood's dreamy acoustic guitar and Heartwear Process' stuttered distortion-laced electrics feels seamless.
Beginning with track one (which feels like as good a place as any) Ben Marwood unveils a lovely little song called Hold Your Breath. There is a gorgeous contrast between the bright and beautifully simple finger-picking and the sorrow in Marwood's voice. He has a well-thought way with words and would certainly give the likes of the Arctic Monkeys a lesson or two in the down-to-earth lyrics arena. A logical addition to any mellow acoustic mix, Marwood's style is not a million miles from a Rocky Votolato track. Nicely done.
Track two of the double-hitter single is the catchier of the two songs and is definitely worth a listen.
A fantastic slice of well-written pop-rock Swallow My Tooth comes in at just over two minutes and is one of those songs that you find yourself rewinding as soon as the last note peters out. Stop-start guitars and excellent howling vocals – all-in-all a pleasure to listen to. Heartwear Process have a knack for writing just-plain-fun dancefloor-fillers and aren't unlikely to cause air guitars everywhere to come out of their cases. Here's hoping for more from Broken Tail very soon.
www.myspace.com/benmarwoodmusic
www.myspace.com/heartwearprocess
www.myspace.com/brokentailrecords

Riley

 
 

Rob McCulloch- Escaping Times (Gladrag)

McCulloch is a very articulate young man. He can also write a damn catchy tune. He also has what some might call a “simple” way of doing things, that’s missing in much of today’s music. He doesn’t mess about with fancy chords, weird synth generated noises, and is about as far removed from pretentious as it’s possible to be.  

Escaping Times is a back to basics take on life in Rob’s native Bolton, or any city in the UK.  

His laid back acoustic guitar driven pleasing melodies house complex lyrics with depth one wouldn’t expect to find from a) someone so young and b.) a debut album. 

As easy as it would be to stick Rob on the shelf with James Morrison et al, he makes it almost impossible to do. Doing One’s Bit tells of hard men putting people down, but it does so in a very eloquent way- “We’ve got bright flames in classes ignite to get blown out”-Scummy Man this is not.  

The subject of Escaping Times is quite grim in places, and Rob is not one to sugar coat. However the songs still succeed in being catchy and listenable. The chorus to Out of my Skin will have a ridiculous amount of staying power in anyone’s head. 

Six Of One is a departure from the rest of the album, charting a confrontation between Rob and some people who took offence to his pink jumper, and features some brilliant colloquialisms- “Bollocks you look like a wotsit”. 

Escaping Times has the perfect balance of humour and seriousness, and some cracking tunes to boot.

Catriona Boyle

 

The Ripps- Long Live The Ripps (Catskill Records 

The Ripps “heart Cov”, according to the message emblazoned on their CD. They’ve even dedicated a song to it on their album. I have never been to Coventry, but judging from the music it produces, I suspect I won’t heart it.  

As much as I don’t want to, I feel an overwhelming urge to lump The Ripps in with bands such as Larrikin Love and the Holloways, except in a slightly substandard lump compared to the rest of the bands. 

Long Live The Ripps is an energetic stab at writing songs about night life culture, presumably in Coventry. Sadly Coventry appears to be no different to anywhere else, and The Ripps write songs no different to anyone else. Vandals, about spending the night in a cell is uninspired, and quite frankly a bad example to set for their younger listeners. Vampires follows in the same vein.  

Musically, the songs are accomplished, and for only a three piece the band manage to create a full, layered sound, especially with the inclusion of backing vocals by female drummer Rachel Butt.  The songs themselves though lack originality and any real depth. 

Their brief ska influences show potential, particularly in Stranger, but the mood is ruined by an over jangly chorus.

Ironically, COV Song would be perfect for a flailing dance floor, with its tinny guitar, fast tempo and over lapping vocals. 

The Ripps are probably everything a night out in Coventry is: loud, chaotic, and a bit messy.
www.myspace.com/theripps

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Alkaline Trio- Remains (Vagrant) 

Traditionally, tracks that feature on compilations aren’t as good as album tracks. So why Alkaline Trio has decided to release an album of said tracks is a bit of a mystery. It’s an odd collection. It’s not a best of (none of their best songs are on it), it’s not a B-sides and rarities compilation (there’s only a few B-sides on it) and it’s not a live album (there are three live tracks).  However, if you feel the urge to own these tracks, it’s cheaper than buying every compilation Alkaline Trio have ever been on. 

Back in the day, Alkaline Trio used to be a half decent band. They were far better than their over-hyped contemporaries Greenday (at least they haven’t gone down the same route as them), and put on a damn good live show as well. Lead singer Matt Skiba even used to be somewhat of a heart throb. These days though, he’s married, and Alkaline Trio have been fairly quiet for a couple of years. 

Sadly, Remains doesn’t exactly spark off reminiscent thoughts of their glory days. More, as the title suggests, the few things that are left of Alkaline Trio’s hey day. Whether they will return to form is still uncertain, with no mention on a new album. 

Most of the tracks are generic Alkaline Trio. Minimal guitar on the verses, more noise on the chorus, and lyrics about blood, death, heartbreak and alcohol. Hell Yes, recently released as a limited 7” single (1000 copies… were they scared no-one would buy it?) is catchy enough, and actually seems to be about being happy. Dead End Road sees Alkaline Trio more on form, with a driving guitar riff into thundering drums. 

The album tears through at a fast and furious pace, one of Alkaline Trio’s trademarks, and rarely lets up in 22 tracks. Jaked on Green Beers is an absolute rip-roarer, and has just about everything- rolling drums, lightening fast riffs and some nice vocal harmonies.  

It’s on the slower tracks that the band let themselves down and Sadie is a dingy love song that drags itself about like a ball and chain.  Buried is also an over sincere ballad, where Matt Skiba’s voice really starts to grate, and the song borders on watery stadium rock. 

Remains does come with one saving grace. The DVD features videos from two albums, including some of their best singles- Time to Waste and Mercy Me.  

For a real taste of Alkaline Trio at their best, chuck the CD away and whack the DVD on.
www.alkalinetrio.com

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Charlotte Hatherley- The Deep Blue (Little Sister Records)

During her time in Ash no-one could blame you for thinking that Charlotte Hatherley might actually not have a voice. Turns out she does though, quite a nice one at that, and some rather good song writing skills as well.

The Deep Blue unveils a bit of a girly girl behind Charlotte’s sultry exterior. Her voice is sweetness and light, but at the same time has a warning tone edge to it, and is that a country twang I detect in places?

I Want You To Know bangs and thumps its way into a brilliant tune with sing song vocals and plenty of opportunities for a clap along when it’s performed live.

Rollover (let it go) is a big, big song, enhanced by strings and discordant bluesy piano.

Charlotte’s increasingly varied influences have been transferred into her album, making it a varied and interesting listen. She dabbles in various genres, but at the same time manages to keep her own style in every song.

The Deep Blue shows Charlotte’s clear departure from Ash’s style, and her second album seems to find her feeling a lot more comfortable in her own skin. The girl done good.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Enochian Theory - A Monument to the Death of an Idea (Anomalousz)

Epic. Everything about this release cries out 'epic!'. Let's start with the band name - hands up anyone who knows what 'Enochian' means? A few minutes googling later and you may come to the conclusion that it is a mythical language of few words (just around a thousand apparently) and most of those the names of angels. OK...

The artwork is fantastic - some ghostly double exposure photography on a silky black background. And then the music...well, if epic can be used to describe any 7 minute plus song then this is an album of 'epics'. But something seems a bit wrong from the start of track 1 'A Countermeasure in Hindsight'. Some atmospheric shimmering guitars over a synth drone give way to a sledgehammer of power chords and some hollering vocals. But things seem to unravel a ponderously - every few bars seems to be filled with a tricksy guitar lick, an over complicated drum fill and the constant warbling vibrato of the vocals. The frequent time changes, rather than sounding clever or interesting sound more mechanical and wooden.

And so it goes on, this albums slams firmly into the progressive metal category. There is some fantastic production giving real depth and chunkiness to the guitars but generally unless you really like this kind of meandering rock then it would be hard to recommend it. I felt at times the vocals were a little weak against the gigantic wall of noise the band were creating and generally the tunes seems to run out after the first track. There is a bit of a volume shift every so often but I found 'A Monument to the Death of an Idea' all to easy to turn off halfway through.
www.enochiantheory.co.uk

SB

 
 

Comeback Kid - “Broadcasting…” (Victory Records) 

Canadian hardcore band Comeback Kid had a lot to answer for. Their previous album ‘Wake The Dead’ was full of air-punching, ear-splitting anthems that pointed them out as one of several bands set to save the hardcore scene.

Hate to use the pun..but the question is two years later, and with Scott Wade leaving the band and guitarist Andrew Neufield taking up vocals in his place, can Comeback Kid make a comeback? 

Opening track ‘Defeated’ kicks off with Terror-style guitar work that’s heavier and more aggressive than Comeback Kid’s usual style, and it’s soon apparent that this album has a more metal edge that Comeback Kid’s previous releases, especially once you hear tracks such as ‘Expose’ and ‘The Blackstone’.

Comeback Kid are still have all the ingredients for hardcore- fast, angry, short but something is missing from this album, or maybe a question of who’s missing. Scott Wade gave Comeback Kid a more personal feeling with his raw vocals, shouting ‘YOUR TALK IS CHEAP’ in a way that always invited every kid in the room to shout along.  

However, Neufield’s voice- while up to the task at live performances- seems anemic and weak compared. This however may be a product of recording: the album was made with the same record label and same producers as its predecessor but ‘Broadcasting..’ has a polished sheen over it that won’t come away even after you’ve ripped off the CD’s plastic packaging. The gang vocals all sound recorded in an arena rather than a small, sweaty moshpit and this sums up the album more or less: it may be musically more advanced than Wake The Dead, but it’s lost the raw & personal feel that made Comeback Kid’s music what it was.  

It’s a good album, but an average CK album. If you like it, I suggest using it as an easier-on-the-ears lead-in to hardcore. But if you’re a Comeback Kid fan, I’d say fingers crossed that they play a lot of their old songs when on tour with fellow Canadians Alexisonfire these upcoming months.

Willa C

 
 

No Seduction – “Experience More Powerful Orgasms” 

Look at the title of this album. Go on, look at it without cringing. You can’t can you. The face that you’re pulling right now is probably not dissimilar to the one that I pulled when this CD came through my letterbox and I first ripped open an envelope to find the debut offering from this Italian sex-obsessed group, whose press release describes their sound as “Garages moving in a huge penthouse. But no fake playmates in it, just real orgasms.” 

So expecting the worst, I put the CD on to play, only to find to my amazement that this album is, well… not that bad. In fact, with a vague punk theme and some ideas reminiscent of the Archie Bronson Outfit and Mclusky, this band really seem to have if not a great sound, then something better than most groups who have sex as their principal theme. That is until songs like Memoirs Of An Irresistible Masochist and Pull The “True Love” Lever get hold, with their terrible, terrible, terrible lyrics, at times nonsense and at other times enough to make you wish you were anywhere else than listening to this record. One track that sticks out is The Little Song Of Yes And No, which starts with the line “circumcision yes, infibulation no”, and goes on to mention all sorts of things including revolution, euthanasia and McDonalds, all of which are dealt with in one monosyllabic word. Words are important to me, I like bands who actually write about things and these lyrics are halfway between half-hearted and dreadful. 

Having said that, I do think that there is a lot of good fun punk-pop (not pop-punk) on this album, and that if you’re after a band that make simple music without pretension and do it well, then No Seduction could be for you. I’d still like to hear them write songs when they have something else on their mind, though.
www.myspace.com/noseduction

Patrick Dowson

 
 

Thom Yorke - The Eraser

This is an expected album by Thom Yorke, the frontman of Radiohead, in that it is generally in line with previous Radiohead releases - it's a close cousin to the albums Amnesiac, Kid A, and Hail To the Thief. The Eraser, however, is not a rocking opus like The Bends (with its muscular, 'blaze of glory' guitars - my apologies for referencing Bon Jovi) nor does it incorporate the full, sweeping, open sounds of piano and guitars on OK Computer - i.e., this is not a rock album.

Some tracks off of The Eraser are gentle reminders of previous Radiohead efforts - it's similar to Amnesiac album - the beats of Packt Like Sardines In a Crushed Tin Box, the ghostly moaning vocals of Pyramid Song, the fuzzy, static beat of Pulk, the Western USA guitar lines of I Might Be Wrong, and the vocals on Knives Out. It's similar to Kid A album - the background noise of Everything In Its Right Place, the beats of Kid A, the maudlin, downer vocals of How To Disappear Completely, the 'ooohs' and Western guitar of Optimistic, and the electronic beats of Idioteque - an echoey, metallic sound. It's similar to Hail To The Thief album - the anxious voice on Backdrifts (the closest vocal link to The Eraser), the Western guitar on Go To Sleep, the ghostly, spacy backdrop and vocals of Where I End & You Begin, and the staticky clicks and beeps and beats and ghostly vocal wailing of The Gloaming (this song is basically the template for The Eraser album!).

Instead of being a spectator to the ego-puffing and deflating of an actor in a film like 'Being John Malkovich', we're treated instead to 'Being Thom Yorke', apparently (or some approximation thereof), with the listener slipping through the portal into the cracked/bruised/tremulous psyche (or at least the portrayal of one) of Thom Yorke - with no exit to dump us onto the New Jersey turnpike at the end of the journey...

Thom quavers and emotes in mournful tones, sounding victimized and traumatized, tied in emotional knots as he continues to peer inward, submerging himself in malaise, restless unease, and the chronic ache of unsettled emotions. Thom's maudlin, anxious, pained falsetto is in full effect here with lots of spectral 'oooh' moaning and low-key beats and programming, yet the songs have a surprisingly full, detailed sound. There are aural build-ups and fades, staccato beats, and unclassifiable (well, at least by me) noises in each song and slow, ghostly wails permeate the choruses of many a track.

Here is the breakdown:

The Eraser - A full sound of airy touches, syncopated beats, electronic blips, tapping noises, ghostly vocal moaning backdrop, with a plaintive Thom singing against a slightly fuzzed up, staticky sound.

Analyse - A mood-setter of thwacking sound and rolling piano with wailing and humming vocals. The piano base consists of lower notes as a backdrop and higher, faster notes, and "chica-chica" noises - like the beating of a metal antenna against a plastic bucket sound (thwack-thwack) to create a full rhythm...then there's a dawning sound that unfolds and makes the song bigger, opens it up, but
sadly, it ends too soon.

The Clock - A human beatbox comprises the background texture, with Thom's vocals floating over it. Steely guitar lines, like a fast- paced, desert-ghost-town-with-sun-going-down-spaghetti-Western feel and a metallic, clacking centipede (skittering restlessly across wooden floorboards) noise and staticky sound take over, with Thom's voice as part of the rhythm - then there's ghostly singing - milky, broken emotions, guitar, echoed sounds, and humming mid-way through the number. The ghostly moaning and guitar-picking come on all 'High Plains Drifter' on Halloween, which is ok by me - LOL.

Black Swan - This number is electronic and contained, with a sustained, needling Casio keyboard note moving around slowly in tone, and the sonic backbone of an Afghan Whigs/Greg Dulli song (but not blustery or raging or funky enough) as Thom bemoans "This is futtt-up" (because I bought 'clean' version for cheap! LOL), his moaning wails sounding a tinge like Jeff Buckley, and sustained downer organ notes with an overlap of two or three vocal lines of Thom's near the end.

Skip Divided - Thom sings on this tune in a low, plainer tone - trying to emulate Tricky, it seems (!), amid blips, clicks, and ominous keyboard notes (slow video game sounds and humming) in the background. Thom doesn't sound in his usual element here, so it's all a bit iffy, and the grittier vocal is not pretty, and Thom doesn't have that 'sad 'n' lonely' vibe that is 'normal' for him. Still, at least he's trying to branch out a bit...

Atoms For Peace - Static and crackle again form the beat (like I Miss You by Bjork, but not as jaunty), with Thom singing in a higher range - then he gets really high-reaching, against plucked, rounded notes. Thom's voice is pained "Peel all your layers off / I want to eat your artichoke heart" - and sounds a little too affected in lyrics and delivery. In the background a low-key, sustained organ note eventually swells to the forefront, and there are some guitar notes, but this track is really a showcase of Thom's vocals.

And It Rained All Night - Full of vibrating, otherworldly, space sounds - clacking sticks, electronic, bass-heavy beat, similar to a Hail To The Thief song (which I can't place right now...urgh) - with Thom in turmoil again. There are lots of sounds to be found here and it's the heaviest song on the album, all fuzzed up with a spectral, deep space sound and interesting lyrics - Thom can really rap his mouth around (well, you know, enunciate) the word indefatiguable!! LOL

Harrowdown Hill - A bit of a letdown from the previous songs, Thom's vocals are plain, middling for the most part, until he exclaims "Did I fall or was I pushed?", with his vocals moving along to the rhythm of the bass guitar notes and a too-70s vibe going on of sustained organ and metallic-sand shaking noises.

Cymbal Rush - This track pits quick rhythms versus slow sonics, with fast computer bleeping noises (or underwater sub noises) and little static, clicking sounds playing against a slowly-building, sustained, dawning sound. Thom's vocals are laid on top of it all, and the beat and guitar doesn't seem to fit the rest of the sounds (the elegical, floaty moans and slow piano notes) - but it all ends, quite fittingly, with computer bleeps.

Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine Yahoo Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine

 
 

Margot & the Nucelar So & Sos - The Dust of Retreat

Like a leggy-tendril plant searching for the sunlight, this album is slow grower, but eventually insinuates itself and takes a hold of the listener's ears and emotional sensibilities. The oddly (or pretentiously or sillily - or maybe literately, but I'm too lazy to look it all up) named Margot & The Nuclear So & So's don't have the overloaded exuberance of The Arcade Fire, the pop chops of The New Pornographers, or the sweeping, orchestral elaborateness of Belle & Sebastian, but they are a low-key close cousin to those bands (ie.,made up of give or take 8 members, artsy, multi-instrumentals, story-telling lyrics).

A Sea Chanty of Sorts starts it off on a tear in the teacup note, with a low-key, measured pace, sweetly depressive male vocals, lovely airy female vocals on choruses, piano, strings, and emphasis on the lyrics (guess where the album title comes from), emanating a dreamy state as the drums march along slowly along with the lightly enveloping mix of other instruments. This song actually does have me hooked after a couple listens, but in that fuzzy, not-quite-awake
vibe.

Second song Skeleton Key goes poppy, with an upbeat tone and down-beat lyrics, but it doesn't quite snap or crackle enough to shake you senseless with joy (leave that to Ren and Stimpy's Happy Happy Joy Joy).

Vampires In Blue Dresses has up-front vocals, tinkling-chime sounds, and soft horns - and comes across like a laid-back Arcade Fire, until quite suddenly machine-gun drum beats blast the unattuned listener into submission. Is this a sign of our times?

Quiet As A Mouse is quite the opposite and all the better for it, with an indie-rock, bottom-heavy synth/guitar (who knows) line and plaintive, up-front vocals, with the emphasis again on the lyrics. This is Margot's... rock song (in a Lemonheads, The Killers, etc...kind of way).

Speaking of The Lemonheads and Evan Dando, the next song, Jen Is Bringin' The Drugs could've been an outtake from The Lemonhead's, with a real-time recording feel (with sighs and shuffling papers and non-note-perfect strummed guitar) and obtuse yet interesting lyrics - "Love is an inkless pen, it's a tavern, it's sin, it's a horrible way to begin".

Dress Me Like a Clown continues the treading between rock and indie-pop, with the lead singer sounding gently mournful, slightly hurt, emotionally crushed, but still hopeful, with female backing vocals sweetening the deal - a song for a rainy day, for mulling over relationships, for spying from a distance in the mind your life on rewind, with a glass or two of red wine.

As with many of these tunes, the next one relies heavily on the lyrics, and we have full-on long sentences in On A Freezing Chicago Street, which I suppose is better than short, simplistic, repetitive lyrics.... There is much going on musically in this slow to mid-tempo song, with drum thumps, strings, synth, piano, guitar strum, and sometimes horns, which all picks up by the end.

Then comes the 'silly' song, the one with a guy singing "Meow, meow, meow, meow" quite seriously, snips of French dialogue, muted trumpet, and a female singer in the background. I'll leave it at that. No, actually, I'll take it because it is kinda an endearing song, once you've heard it a few times...

Barfight Revolution, Power Violence by title only sounds like a Huggy Bear song, but instead it's the torch number, the slinkier number where the guy singer finally is sounding alive and vibrant, actually exclaiming aloud on the chorus against loungy instrumentals (As with most/all/some of these songs, I'm assuming he's taking on a character/role here).

A Light On A Hill has a meandering melody, no rhythm or reason, just a slow tune with strummed guitar and piano and some smoother vocals.

On Talking In Code, the lead singer starts off expressing himself in the same tone as most previous songs, but somewhere in there he exclaims to the point of his voice cracking, once again breaking that melancholy ice, so to speak, while the slow march, alt-country lament continues (with some mariachi band sounds at slightly bitter end).

Low-key reigns over this album, and the closer Bookworm is no exception, with airy, Air-like synth notes, organ and jingling bells near end, and a vibe of melancholia, with the lyrics being all-important: "Your home is a highway, your pillow's a rock. I'm in a rusted car, bound to get lost.".

Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine Yahoo Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine

 
 

The Real Tuesday Weld - I, Lucifer

I always thought The Real Tuesday Weld was a girl singer or girl group, but it turns out it's the assumed name of one Stephen Coates, a guy from London who has a knack for penning sly, complex lyrics, delivering said lyrics in a hushed but arch way, and seamlessly fusing old-time (circa 1920s) instruments (soft clarinet, antique piano, upright bass, etc...), a smoky lounge vibe, and modern electronica loops and beats.

To quote from the notes on the album cover, "I, Lucifer is the imaginary soundtrack to the best selling book of the same name by Glen Duncan, about the devil returning to earth for a second shot at repentance and mortality.". Talk about ambitious - and for the most part, The Real Tuesday Weld pulls it off, creating a lush, sophisticated, jaded romantic, nouveau-retro jazz/electronic atmosphere. Stephen sings or sing-talks in a hushed, accessible voice on most songs (he's not too arch, stand-offish, or cold). You don't even have to know the background for this disc to enjoy it - when I listened to the album, I took it as a concept album about love and heart-break and regret.

If you're a fan of the work of Jarvis Cocker, The Divine Comedy, Pet Shop Boys, The Czars, Beth Gibbons/Portishead, and Belle & Sebastian, then The Real Tuesday Weld is probably for you.

My only quibble with the album is that, while everything falls together smoothly, it's all a little too carefully arranged and airless. A few songs, however, do sound fresh and break out of that stifled feeling and keep it fun and lively (Bathtime In Clerkenwell, (Still) Terminally Ambivalent Over You, and The Life and Times Of The
Clerkenwell Kid).

The opening number is a short monologue of "...it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it..." leading into the infectious and much-praised electronica track Bathtime In Clerkenwell, with looped sounds of a guy speed-talking nonsensically "boo-doo-dibbly-bibbly-ah-no" (yes, I'm paraphrasing), a light-hearted clarinet sample, and fast-paced, springy beat. This is a fun song that puts a smile on your face.

The Ugly And The Beautiful follows with a steady, soft beat, brushed drums, piano, looping female sighs, a staticky background hiss, and Stephen sing-talking with hushed and distant tones with the emphasis on the lyrics "...love's the only drug - turns the ugly into beautiful...".

A looping, jaunty beat and banjo-like strum are highlights of the next faster-paced song, (Still) Terminally Ambivalent Over You, with it's found-sound samples of a guy's voice saying "Keep moving" and "Stay" and a vintage crackle-noises in the background.

Someday (Never) is the sad torch number (with slow accordion), sung with feeling (plaintively and wistfully) by Stephen - and this song will pop up again in a slightly different form later on the album. You can imagine him on a bare stage with only a spotlight on him as he sings...

The on-stage feel continues on the haunting One More Chance, a complex, soft, lush, romantic-heartbreak song that starts with an audience clapping in muffled tones which then fades away as organ, brushed drums, and a wending, dreamy, melancholy clarinet take over.Stephen sings in a lower, hushed tone and eventually a girl torch singer comes in, sounding like a richer Beth Gibbons (Out Of Season-era), and the audience clapping commences again, sounding like pattering rain.

The Eternal Seduction of Eve comes off like a Saint Etienne track in its low-key, lounge vibe and Stephen sounds like Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys (without the sharp, nasal pitch of Neil), talking against slightly staticy beat, old-time piano, and xylophone notes, as a looped bit of a girl saying "encore" on the chorus.

In a reprise of the third song, Stephen takes on Le Bete Et La Belle - in French, of course - singing in a plainer, more straightforward style and backed by strummed guitar.

Stephen then goes into an echoed, lower vocal register (and plays a girl, I guess - the lyrics start with "I wore my summer dress...") for Easter Parade, a slower, laid-back number where his words are drawn out amid a soft sunset-samba beat, lush piano, liquid plucked guitar, and slow, sand-shaking maracas.

The fun bounces back with The Life And Times Of The Clerkenwell Kid, a great mix of 20s jazz and electronica and witty lyrics, all delivered with seriously sinister and cheeky charm - check out these lyrics "...and you don't be concerned with the things they said I did, I ain't got no regrets, no one to forgive, I ain't talkin' gangsters and that East Coast, West Coast shit, no one calls me a homeboy - I'm The Clerkenwell Kid.".

A tinkling music box starts off The Show Must Go On, with a bit of the same bouncing beat as the previous number, but this time the sentiment is serious, with a constant, wordless female chorus backdrop, upright bass, old-time clarinet, and a swingin' jazz sound. Stephen sounds low-key and hushed, but still arch, saying, obviously, that the show must go on...

The instrumental Heaven Can't Wait has that same type of sighing female vocal backdrop and a loop of old-time music - organ, piano, transient strings, soft tambourine claps, and a steady beat.

The next number, Someday (Soon), is another take on the fifth song, this time with Stephen sounding hushed, yet assured against brushed drums and xylophone.

And, finally, the end is in sight - The Pearly Gates closes out this concept album with a bell tolling and female vocals shadowing Stephen as he sing-talks in a lower voice and slowly draws out his words, sounding ponderous "Will you meet me at the pearly gates one day?".

Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine Yahoo Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine

 
 

Hauschka - ‘Room To Expand’ (130701) 

A new signing to the innovative Fat Cat imprint 130701, Hauschka is the alias of Düsseldorf pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann,  a man who isn’t just content with playing the piano but rather interacting with it. Prepared piano music is no new phenomenon but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or effective. It involves getting inside the workings of the instrument and muting and effecting the strings and hammers playing ability in order to change the sounds it creates. The results are often breathtaking, bizarre and curious and all these things are certainly true of Hauschka.

‘Room To Expand’ follows on from his last release in 2005 ‘The Prepared Piano’ and expands on the themes and styles he had begun to push there but with further fleshing out this time with the occasional addition of extra instrumentation and layering. ‘Paddington’ is a song built on repetitive  grooves and building layers,  ‘Sweet Come Spring’ is rooted in the percussive qualities Hauschka teases out of his instrument of choice while closer ‘Old Man Playing Boules’ is a subtle and understated number that finishes proceedings beautifully.

‘Room To Expand’ is an album uninterested in notions of perfection or virtuosity,  it is instead a record built on experimentation and passion. As with his previous releases Hauschka is treading his own path and it is our duty to gladly follow the footprints he leaves.

Luke Drozd

 
 

A Hawk And A Hacksaw - ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ (Leaf) 

‘The Way The Wind Blows’ heralds the return of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost’s wonderful A Hawk And A Hacksaw project.  Over the space of their previous releases they have begun to craft a sound uniquely their own, one that is a mix of folk styles from both sides of the Atlantic and which takes in elements of chamber music, traditional eastern European music and anything else it cares to absorb. This outing sees them flesh out the proceedings further which includes a heavier leaning on vocal accompanied tracks as well as getting some help from acclaimed friends such as Beirut’s Zach Condon and Balkan brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia. The overall tone and result of all this is of a band who no longer sound like they are striving to find their sound but one that found it and promptly began to deconstruct it. It is in short adventurous and vivid in tone and scope and shows them to be a mass of talent and ideas.

Luke Drozd

 
 

Thee More Shallows -‘Book of Bad Breaks’ (Anticon) 

I realised something whilst listening to ‘Book of Bad Breaks’. Ok so it wasnt anything massively profound and it wont change the face of the world or make me more loved but it was this, Thee More Shallows are one of the worlds finest bands. There I’ve said it, its out there, may god fuck those who disagree and I can say that as until recently I worked for the Church of England.

For years now TMS have been building their sound, one that’s particularly unique and complex, a sound that is part orchestrated pop, complex rock and slow-core whimsy that elicited comparisons to Yo La Tengo (not that they ever really sounded like them but journalists are lazy and it’s the closest they/we could get).

TMS’s last record ‘More Deep Cuts’ was met with a wave of reviews that sung its praises. It was ,in short, well liked. Now moving labels from their home on Monotreme to the bigger boys house at Anticon it seems like TMS are ready to go from being ‘well liked’ to making sure the rest of the world has the same realisation I did.

‘Book of Bad Breaks’ retains many elements from their previous efforts. The sense of wit and tongue-in-cheek remains in the lyrical passages and the attention to detail and complex arrangements remain intact and stronger than ever. However where previous offerings have been pared back and hushed for much of the record ‘Book of Bad Breaks’ becomes a record of complex beats, drones and an overall sense of paranoia and mania. Its sort of the musical equivalent to staying up for a couple of days and drinking nothing but caffeine based products and eating snickers. The overall result of this is an album that plays like the soundtrack to a movie made by Gondry and Lynch with Bowie helping with some arrangements but aiming for a pg certificate.

Thee More Shallows are a band that, more than anyone else on this god forsaken planet, deserve your time and undivided attention , just listen to Night at the Knight School and tell me I’m wrong. This is the record that should finally allow them to reach the larger audience they deserve. Well I’m behind you boys, lets saddle up and take the fight to the fuckers.

Luke Drozd

 
 

Alone in 1982 - The Fiction Between Us 

Alone in 1982 arrive with debut album, The Fiction Between Us, an effort full of fuzzy lingering of sweeping, unsatisfying indifference. At the same time, the hazy instrumentals produce a precious sense of prolonged engagement that craftily encapsulates a simple beauty, it’s a shame that the beauty fades so quickly.  

Introductory track “Brimstone” embodies an intense transformation that ends in explosive climax. The duo insulates a creeping musical conflict that creeks with struggling confrontation and dissonance; it speaks a very subtle splendour and gradually grows to a tense flare-up. It’s a fine choice for an opening statement, as the faint tenderness it produces sharply, but satisfyingly fades, and I’m not sure that the achievement is ever accomplished twice. “French Disease” maintains a mind-numbing of absolute stillness to wind in some more mind-numbing circular, lyrical filler. The childlike awkwardness of “Richman” comes completely out of nowhere and the quaint rant is short lived, as if should be. The remainder of the work operates much in the same fashion, in a fatigued, foggy guitar echo, sounding exhausted, sounding out of breath. 

“That Throwing Muses Record” maintains similar qualities of seemingly sleepy vocals and bored stiff progressions that wind into dawdling rolls of repetition. “White Peach” and closer “The Size of a Buick” winningly stream bits of light, which is quite rare about this territory, which all in all, resemble old and dusty- depressing Radiohead qualities. Like “Richman,” the unusual confidence of “Made up my Mind” seems to come out of nowhere and as soon as it’s over, Alone in 1982 switches right back to draining musical loiter. It’s just a bit painful to sit through; the album sluggishly sways in a game of inconsistent hit and miss. The minimalist guitar works and drowsy vocals maintain only a short summit. The Fiction Between Us is a work of highs and lows and it’s patterns get very old very fast.  Alone in 1982 claim that some of their inspiration befalls “boredom and grief.” Too bad it sounds that way.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 

30 Seconds to Mars - A Beautiful Lie (Virgin EMI)

After listening to the single 'Attack' I was just left mildly bemused as to who would purchase such banal MTV friendly emo rock. After the first listening of the album 'A Beautiful Lie' I was left positively fuming. Time is a great healer and one week and a second listen later I don't feel quite as irate about it, but don't take that as a positive.

In fairness, while not breaking any new ground, 'A Beautiful Lie' commences with a few innocuous enough tracks, often drawing on previous well worn sounds - the title track lifting a vocal melody from Depeche Mode's 'Sweetest Perfection', 'Was It A Dream' trying it's best to sound like The Cure (but actually sounding like a miserable dirge) and 'The Pattern' with its vocal affectations and sparse staggered drum patterns is vintage U2.

Nothing wrong with drawing on a few decent influences and, as influences go, those three are pretty good ones. But what really gets my goat is how the whole album is so overly produced to ensure that it will appeal to the mass MTV/radio friendly  market that it is completely devoid of any balls or emotion. The instrumentation is leaden at best anyway and to his credit, Jared Leto tries adding some much needed emotion with his vocals. But here again the record falls short - Leto has two modes - bawling his head off in an anthemic, smoke billowing over the edge of the stage in wind machine sort of way and an equally synthetic plaintive, croaky pseudo sensitive sort of way. There's not much in between and it's like flicking a switch between them. It's also hard to believe that a multi millionaire grossing actor/musician can really be in this much turmoil.

I also remember hearing my first ever 'Hidden track' on a CD - at the end of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'. That's quite cool the first time but every time after that it's just damn annoying. Not only do 30 Seconds to Mars commit this offence but to compound matters they are hiding the best two tracks - a faster, guitar sawing piece and a sinister, throbbing electronic number, part Tool, part Portishead. Mind you, better keep those two away from the kids - they might have nightmares.

The whole shebang smacks of a music industry (and indeed, a culture) more interested in personalities and fame than with the art of making music. I'm realistic to understand that it's a tough time for record companies and major labels would rather invest their cash in 'a safe pair of hands'. Let's face it, A-list celebs in US rock bands are pretty much as safe as you can get. But could we not try and push the boundaries just a little and maybe invest more in any one of a hundred bands who are doing stuff a million times more interesting than this? Otherwise we're just getting into one big vicious circle where MTV pulps the minds of its young viewers who clamour after more musical stodge which the industry seems quite willing to keep serving up. Rant over.
www.thirtysecondstomars.com

SB

 
 

Ormondroyd - Hit & Hope

I know what you’re thinking and you’re absolutely right. The Sheffield quintet was so inspired by the famous footballer that they decided to name themselves after him. Debut full-length album Hit & Hope arrives after two substantially acclaimed EPs, the first just happens to be John Peel-approved. Their completely consuming and capricious brand of shoe-gaze glows in carefully crafted pop songs.  

Now don’t let that scare you. If you think like me, the phrase “pop songs” should scare you because these days, if you’re dealing with indie outfits, “pop” usually restricts musical forms to skinny-jeans-wearing, flop-mop hair-doing skiffle kids or top-shop smarted-sporting flabby piano ballad cry babies—all in all, it ain’t pretty. Instead, Ormondroyd combines light-hearted, sweeping instrumental stasis with sensible lyrical themes. Cheap shots would include comparisons to excessively bland, but internationally successful acts like Keane or Snow Patrol, just for Ormondroyd’s sheer accessibility, but let me assure you, despite the polite openness of Hit & Hope, there is vast substance here. The band’s experience as source of soundtrack music makes complete sense, as the fine and clever changes encompass a cinematic quality of fragile beauty, as first track ‘Wenceslas’ perfectly demonstrates.   

The trouble with most post-rock/atmospheric alternative bands is failing vocal directions, and typically, the technique of a voice could potentially make or break a poignant piece of music. More often than not, the vocals break it. The fragile shape of ‘Wenceslas’ could drastically crash and burn, but it doesn’t; the vocals (every member chimes in and there appears to be no ‘lead singer’) meet the batting eyelash-like speed of whimsical, musical force and flourish. Slewing slurs pine to fulfil voids of cosmic proportions full of star-ridden skies and twinkling horizons, cautiously shaped by delicate instrumentation. Much of Hit & Hope sustains this musical model and strategic timing bids climactic eruptions of epic extents as the songs begin to bleed into each other without creating numbing repetition. Each song maintains it’s own in fine delicacy without sounding overtly vulnerable or weak, embodying a soundscape worth experiencing.
www.ormondroydhq.co.uk

www.myspace.com/ormondroyd

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 

Le Singe Blanc - Strak! (Keben)

French three-piece Le Singe Blanc hail from Metz in north west France. From what I remember of the place it is a curious crossroads of grim industrialisation and the nearby Vosges mountains. Le Singe Blanc bring all this upheaval and kineticism to their frantic brand of jazz-punk music.

There can be no doubt that US band Primus have severely affected the sound of Le Singe Blanc. There is a a heavy dependence on the almost freeform bass riffs, scratchy guitar insertions and frivolous vocals. Second track 'Goudroun' is a classic example of that. But whereas Primus manage to make their tunes seem to bounce along on this rumbling bed of bass, Le Singe Blanc seem hell bent on destroying any emerging patterns with their ever-changing tempos. 'Ogar' is perhaps a notable exception to this, being slightly more conventionally rhythmical than the rest but again the guitar angulations make sure that we don't get drawn into a a cosy cul de sac of prog rock.

I really liked 'Daubeschmaltoòo which is just one minute of feedback fuelled guitar fury which had leanings towards Primus' 'Tommy Was a Racecar Driver' but it's amazing how even the coarsest changes of pace and discordant guitar-vocal axis can begin to sound a bit the same after a while. I think I would love to see these guys play loud and live sometime but to make this a real top quality recording I'd like to see them just back off on the experimentation a bit and maybe mix it up with a few tunes.
www.lesingeblanc.org

SB

 
 

As Silence Falls – As Silence Falls (Sugar Shack)

With their cited influences including Chimaira, Killswtich Engage and Coheed & Cambria, I reluctantly grasp the new mini-album from UK band As Silence Falls as I quell the alarm bells that warn me of what could once again be the product of generic metalcore mixed with poppy pseudo-emo. Unbiased and prepared, I dive in.

They don't mess about with slow intros as the first track sneaks up and kicks your head in while you're not looking. Immediately though, I find myself crossing my fingers and silently hoping that the singer doesn't break into the type of cheesy over-produced pop singing that seems to have become so popular in recent years. Fifteen seconds in, and I'm once again disappointed. The 80s style pop melody in the appallingly titled "There's no Axe in Accident" overwhelms the song and it suddenly sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to Top Gun. But at the same time, that very fact draws me to it. Undeniably catchy, the over-the-top melody brings to mind Alexisonfire, though sadly without that edge to said band’s sound that separates them from the pack. I just hope the video to this is a montage of a movie hero working out in a gym while attempting to overcome a dilemma of some kind.

Unfortunately though, the rest of the album could have been recorded by a dozen other bands, and offers nothing original whatsoever. There are certainly some solid moments, with some meaty guitar riffs here and there (plus the fact that they’re tight as hell), but when the croutons of greatness are floating in the soup of shit, they're never going to taste very good. Bad analogies aside, and as a perfect example, album closer “A Shadow of Greed” opens fantastically with a tornado of crisp guitar harmonies and crushing drums, but is once again ruined as it devolves back to melodic ‘metal’ by numbers.

Without meaning to come across as condescending, and for want of a better phrase, “the kids will love this”. In fact, I’m sure lots of people will love this. For me though, there are too many bands following the same formula so closely that you can no longer tell the difference between them. I can hear a huge amount of potential here though, so let’s hope As Silence Falls take it to the next level and establish themselves as a band to be reckoned with.
www.assilencefalls.com
www.myspace.com/asfmusicsite

JimmyP

 
 

Buck Brothers - Me (Back2forward)

For a band so obviously bristling with talent, Buck Brothers seem to have gathered an enormous amount of bizarre trivia around them. For example did you know that the bass player's guitar once belonged to The Jam's Bruce Foxton (I wonder if he'll want it back now that they have reformed?), Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe is a huge fan, the drummer's cousin is Jarvis Cocker and for no good reason the band have decided to try and play 30 shows in a 12 hour period in London. I warned you it was bizarre.

But opening track 'Run, Run, Run, Run, Run' sets the tone with a rapid-fire rumbling pop punk gem where Foxton's bass is put to full effect and the two and half minutes swirl past in what must be a near perfect pop record. There is no letting up with 'Gorgeously Stupid' and 'Which Me Do You Like' - The Buck Brothers seem to have a a real gift for penning uber-catchy tunes with just the right balance of punky and poppy overtones. There's a distinct Hives-style sound about the way the guitars are produced and the general unabridged ferocity of the drumming. Also some of the more frivolous tracks like 'Girls, Skirts, Boots,Bikes' bring to mind the likes of Presidents of the USA - a band not afraid to have a bit of fun while cranking out the tunes.

It may be unfair that The Buck Brothers have written more great songs in this one album than most bands will achieve in a lifetime. But if you've got it then you might as well flaunt it. Highly impressive.
www.buckbrothers.net

SB

 

The Pierces - Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge (Lizard King)

It's about time there was a bit of glamour added back into indie music and The Pierces deliver it in spades. Not to say that the sisters Allison and Catherine Pierce do not have their own earthy style, but this alluring gypsy come lounge bar delivery has a swagger that is rarely seen at the moment. It's the sound Sinatra would have made if he'd been brought up by wild dingoes. And I bet The Pierces were ball dresses and howl at the moon - classy yet kooky I reckon.

All of their songs are broadly based around the silky vocal talents of the sisters that weave a snug fitting shawl around the various bodies of music encompassed. There's parpy brass and xylophone popping up in 'Turn on Billie', large sweeping orchestral soundscapes in 'Three Wishes' and out and out country guitar in a number of tracks. Some of the tracks meander a bit fruitlessly and end up sounding like The Cardigans but more often than not The Pierces deliver a fine line in taut song writing interlaced with clever, touching lyrics.
www.thepiercesmusic.com

SB

 
 

Various Artist - Mashed (EMI)

This is the first fully released album of all the different mash ups that have been kept underground for a number of years. They are presented to you by Go Home Productions (GHP) i.e. Mark Vidler. The majority of these songs could previously only be found on radio stations or on your local club night. To ease enjoyment they have all been placed onto a rather handy CD for you all to purchase, lovely! 

When presented with the ‘Mashed’ album, the first thing that popped into my head was “Hey this looks like fun” and in fact it is. It’s a fun album which mixes together different sounds and artists that you thought could never work together. The expertise of GHP enables songs of different eras and sounds to be perfectly mixed together to create something rather special. Although not all of the songs work and some leave you wondering whether that should have ever happened, there are a few hidden gems in the middle of the album.  

From glancing at the track listing it is easy to over-hype this album. However with some time the magic of it shines through. Towards the end there are the two big hits of the last year – ‘Doctor Pressure - Mylo Vs Miami Sound Machine’ (big summer hit of ’06) and ‘Proper Education - Eric Prydz Vs Pink Floyd’ which got to number 2 in the singles chart. Also hidden in-between the other album fillers there are ‘Horny As A Dandy - Dandy Warhols Vs Mousse T’ and ‘Hella Lola - No Doubt Vs The Shapeshifters’ two of the best tracks on the album.  

Overall ‘Mashed’ does exactly what is says on the album cover. For its enjoyment I guess it depends what you are looking and expect. But if you dive in with an open mind and a squinted eye it’s hard to be disappointed. 

Siobhan Bentley

 
 

Dr. Norton - Your Plot . The Prison. My Escape

There is something so relentlessly catchy about Dr.Norton: A four piece Indie/Punk band from Berlin with a sound that is hammered into your head and will undoubtedly get your feet drumming the floor alongside said instrument.

The 11-track album, released through Go-Kart Records, is a fair effort, especially with the gorgeous ringing of the Church-like organ that tacks everything together in an edible portion.

If you know what you like, and what you like is an amalgamation of Primal Scream, The Clash, and The International Noise Conspiracy, then please go give Dr.Norton a listen through the wonders of the Internet and perhaps a certain networking outfit.

Highlights on the album (in my mind), includes Young Boy’s Sigh (a raw, musical edifice including the devine lyric “She tastes like cherry mint bubblegum”), My personal favourite, Now I Have To Go Again, which, with its danceable rhythm, organic organs, catchy guitar riffs, and marching-band snare rolls, leaves smiles all round in the manner that you can’t help get into it and is a triumph in layering the specific instrumental levels. And not forgetting the bluesy One Way Ticket which has some charming beats and lyrics but I can’t help feel it could become a classic if it extended from it’s 1m17s periphery.

All in all, it’s a very classy attempt as a first full release by this upcoming German outfit, who after more than 200 live shows, are somewhat veterans of the performing circuit and who have a very clear potential in a successful future!
www.myspace.com/drnortonbeatpunk

Sunny Winter
In An Emergency, Dial... (www.myspace.com/iae_d)

 
 

The Ponys – Turn The Lights Out (Matador)

The Chicago quartet’s third long-player finds them with a new guitarist (Brian Case, ex-90 Day Men) and a new producer at the helm (John Agnello, whose credits include The Walkmen and The Hold Steady). Gone is the UK post-punk feel of Celebration Castle, and in is a more orthodox mishmash of alt.influences from the last thirty years. If you like your Sonic Youth or your Jesus and Mary Chain you’ll likely find something to love here. Jered Gummere’s drawly vocals often recall Thurston Moore, and the echoey, densely produced guitars will please those currently loving the resurgence of enthusiasm for shoegazing. Although deeply indebted to mid-period Sonic Youth, there’s nothing remotely challenging here to worry about. Instead you have effectively a gutsy but polished take on alternative rock. Consequentially Turn The Lights Out ends up being intensely average a lot of the time, occasionally exploding into something special - the killer riff on Poser Psychotic, the broody swagger and scrapes of Harakiri - but equally often throwing up a stinking turd – the worst culprit being the godawful title track. The end result is a patchy record that makes you want to listen to the records whose influence spewed The Ponys into existence rather than revisit this one. That’s not to dismiss this record wholesale, but both the opener Double Vision and closing track Pickpocket Song are symptomatic of the shortcomings of this band; the opener sounds rather like a Dandy Warhols offcut, whereas although the latter is a decent song but exactly the kind of song that falls into the catchy but characterless camp. Enough to keep the fans on board, but lacking the edge that won them in the first place.

Craig Wood

 
 

Abigail Hopkins - Blue Satin Alley

It's a funny old album this one. There's plenty of records that start off with all the blistering tunes then slowly fade away in a sea of mediocrity as the minutes pass. This bucks the trend in that the earlier tracks pale into insignificance in comparison to the later, more experimental ones. Opener 'Butterfly' is a warbley vocalled gothic rock plod-along which sees Hopkins sound far too much like Vashti Bunyan for my liking - it's just a vocal tone that I cannot stand. Coupled with the 'big' chorus (you can almost hear the click of the overdrive pedal going on and off at the start and the end) it made me fear the worst for the rest of the album.

'Sublime' and 'I'll Be Waiting for You at the Bus Stand' did little to lift the gloom but then things started to get a bit more interesting. 'In From the Sea' sees Hopkins deploy a far gentler yet ultimately more powerful vocal style, almost spoken word, which mirrors some of Charlotte Gainsbourg's work. This is set against the minimal instrumentation and works much better with it's kooky key changes and minor chords.

'Hailstones' is another curiosity. This is so much like some of the stiff off PJ Harvey's 'Uh huh huh' that I had to check it wasn't a cover. But good company for Hopkins to keep all the same. There's also a refreshing refusal to build songs up to big endings - instead they gently change through their duration, this one introducing the odd verse of woodwind to flesh out the eerie vocals.

Instrumental 'Crow Wire' sounds very much like a film soundtrack but leads into the jazzy 'Harold's Bees', another track, another vocal approach - this time sounding like an unhinged asylum escapee. 'I Can Sigh' has the plucked string melody for a pompous Bond-theme style piece but remains restrained (aside from the slightly over elaborate crooning). 'Reminds Me of You' is another track lifted from PJ Harvey, but at an earlier career phase - maybe 'Dry' or 'Rid of Me' with its growly bass and ringing guitars.

Strangely the signature track 'Blue Satin Alley' is little to write home about but the album finishes strong with the melancholy 'Metamorph'. It's a real curate's egg of a record - in parts pure genius, but in others disappointing. Perhaps being a little more ruthless in the editing suite to separate the wheat from the chaff would pay dividends as it seems a shame that so much good work is undermined by a few  misguided choices.

SB

 
 

Bardo Pond – Ticket Crystals (ATP)

Bardo Pond have been pedalling their distinctive shamanic stoner rock for well over a decade now, and with this, their seventh studio album, they show very few signs of any dip in form. You know what you’re going to get with the Philadelphian sextet; heavy stoner jamming, hypnotic flautistry, spaced out vocals, the drug-soaked dirge…and there’s few surprises here. But they do seem to have pretty much mastered their craft. The opener, Destroying Angel, sets the tone nicely, a gently strummed acoustic opening is subsumed by a bludgeoning wall of malevolent rumble; Isobel Sollenberger’s haunting wail combining add another dimension to a striking opener. Generally speaking, the most effective tracks on Ticket Crystals tend to be the more minimal affairs; flute, a looped acoustic riff and spacey guitars combining with Sollenberger’s multi-tracked looped vocals to astounding effect especially on Lost Word. Oddly this is followed by a straightish take on The Beatles’ Cry Baby Cry, although that too is striking due to its rather flat disaffected vocal and portentious climax. 18 minutes of saggy directionless jamming unfortunately grind the lumbering momentum to a disappointing nothing, only to give way to the brilliant Moonshine; starting with a Charalambides-like spacious mantra which uses Sollenberger’s multi-tracked and overdubbed vocals to great effect. This is not a rare trick for psychedelic bands, but done so well here it mesmerises, enabling the listener to ignore the empty whoa dude lyrics about spacetime and all that jazz. In true BP style things build and get noisier and freakier before calming down, then exploding all over again. Superb stuff. The rest is lysergic stoner rock of a more generic hue. What can I say? It’s a damn good Bardo Pond album with a few meandering directionless wrong turns but who’d have them any other way?

Craig Wood

 

The Hellset Orchestra - Spectre at the Feast (Wicked Wicked Bird Records)

Billed as 'the soundtrack to a silent theatrical discotheque', The Hellset Orchestra's debut album leans on the ghosts of Beethoven and Freddie Mercury to create an astonishingly multi-layered soundscape. Every one of these ten tracks soars from quiet piano ballad to rolling drums and broad orchestral arrangements and back again in the blink of an eye.

The band are superb throughout, creating a variety of textures with a range of instruments including piano, cello, saxophone and violin which soar and fall away as the pace and time signatures shift. The gothic lyrics speaking of cauldrons, dinosaurs and cavalry are often scowled and occasionally crooned by a singer who inevitably draws comparisons with Meatloaf before he has even reached the chorus on the opening track, 'Glamazon Rides Compsognathus'.

For a band who claim to have met through 'coincidental research into rare Victorian bird-hunting periodicals', the pace is far from pedestrian and the amount of research and effort that goes into every track is quickly apparent. However, the incessant changes of tempo begin to wear in the second half of the album and restrict any emotional intensity the band were hoping to create. For the same reason, it is difficult to pull out any one track here as a highlight.

Perhaps with the benefit of theatrical visuals, everything will fall into place as it is hard not to feel that listening to the music of The Hellset Orchestra is tantamount to reading only half of a very curious story.
www.thehellsetorchestra.co.uk

Chris McCague

 
 

The Emergency - Doo-Lang Doo-Lang (self-released)

The Emergency try very hard to catch you out. Beginning with a deceptively simple sound (think The Super Furry Animals and the Kinks blended to a smooth paste in a food mixer), their second album takes in a few twists and turns along the way.

The first half dozen or so songs go straight for the jugular. Power chords, strident vocals team up with simple melodies made to be sung out loud, the opener 'Do the Uptight - United States Now' setting the tone with its grinding guitars. 'Whoopy Cat' is a stand-out with its jaunty chorus and you will be struggling not to join in by the time the chorus declares 'I build you up / just to let you down'. There is, however, something slightly sterile about the sound in this first half that lends itself more to power pop than hard rock, a bit of a surprise for an underground band from West Virginia who make a living playing college gigs.

Half way through the lighters come out for 'Magic Town' and the album takes a melancholy turn. Almost every song in the second half takes up the central theme of broken dreams and the production gives these later songs space to build and develop. This is typified on the marvellously titled 'Sharper Chins Prevail' (all the pretty boys have them apparently) where the bittersweet melody breaks up into a 'Hey Jude' style outro.

But The Emergency's bread and butter is the two minute power-pop number and, if you like your songs loud and fun, there is plenty amongst these 16 tracks to savour.
www.theemergency.net

Chris McCague

 
 

Sun Kil Moon - Tiny Cities (aka Mark Kozelek covering Modest Mouse)

This is not Mark's latest release (that would be Little Drummer Boy) and it's not the first time he's covered another artist's songs (like AC/DC tunes and a triumphantly downbeat The Star Spangled Banner). Mark is known for reconstituting his cover songs so that they don't sound like the originals. For starters, he often strips the songs down, slows the pace, and adds his languid, sweetly melancholy, captivating vocals to the mix. Tiny Cities, a tune-for-tune cover of Modest Mouse's original album, is no exception.

When I first started listening to the album, however, my immediate impression was that the disc was for Mark Kozelek devotees only. Maybe the first three songs haven't been ingrained in me yet (Exit Does Not Exist, Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes, and Never-Ending Maths Equation), but they just didn't sound as emotionally powerful as Red House Painters or the best Sun Kil Moon songs. They feel tossed off and too light-weight, with strummed guitar and not much emotional heft.

My viewpoint changed, however, by the fourth song, Space Travel Is Boring, which finds Mark back in solid form, both sad and sweet and backed by strings. Dramamine does it even better, holding sway with a dark current of guitar and noise (more developed instrumentation) and more forceful vocals. Jesus Christ Was An Only Child slows down the pace again with Mark's mournful, yet lilting and aching vocals that end up on an angelic high on the chorus. Four Fingered Fishermen continue the soft wave of exploratory lyrics (courtesy of Modest Mouse) backed by folky, picked guitars. Convenient Parking features fast-strummed guitars and a much darker tone, with Mark sing-talking so fast he barely finishes his short-phrase verses before going on to to the next one.

The highlight of the album for me is Trucker's Atlas - it could be a lost and best Sun Kil Moon track, a rambling, rolling, travelling songfiguratively and literally, with stream-like strummed guitar and Mark in gorgeous vocal form. Could this be the peak of the alt-country sound? Ocean Breathes Salty, a fan favorite, rounds out the tunes  with a slower, gentle guitar strum (you can hear the hand movements over the guitar strings at times) and contemplative vocals that make this song sound like a Sun Kil Moon track.

It's been questioned as to whether Mark Kozelek and Modest Mouse are a good fit, and I say yes for the most part. The Modest Mouse songs represented here are shorter, more direct, and more repetitive than Mark's original work, which tend to be less concise and more rambling, but the structure here seems to appeal to Mark and he uses his melancholy, but bright vocal inflection to make the lyrics and the emotions shine.

Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine

 
 

Ebb - Loona (Gaymonkey Records)

Loona is a beeps and clicks albums. It’s all about the ambient, experimental, press a few buttons here, twiddle a few dials there and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece. If you’re lucky. 

I want to like this kind of stuff. I really do. But somehow it always comes off feeling a bit impersonal and wishy washy. Is there anyone out there that can really connect with a beep or a click, aside from a dolphin?  

In its defence, Loona is completely inoffensive. The songs are delicate, well crafted and rather soothing. If you’re looking for anything deep and personal you’re unlikely to find it, apart from perhaps a slight warm and fuzzy feeling. 

Minau takes a rather interesting turn half way through, and the what can only be described as the strange scratchy squeaky noises, create a curious and slightly uneasy feel.  

On the whole though, Loona seems to lack substance and really is just full of quirky noises. The vocals are weak, and the songs seem uninspired with little variety. Perhaps it is just for dolphins. 
www.ebbmusic.com

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Undergroove vs. Hangman’s Joke Recordings (label sampler)

I’m presented here with a split compilation from two of the UK's best underground record labels, Hangman's Joke and the mighty Undergroove. Adding alternating tracks from both labels' rosters is a nice touch, and fits well with the friendly “versus” theme of the CD.

Here we are provided with a taste of what the UK really has to offer, behind all the glossy magazine covers and haircuts. It starts well with two of the highlights on the compilation; the all-out scathing metal attack of York’s RSJ and sludge drenched leviathan that is The Abominable Iron Sloth (although the latter hail from the US). RSJ stand in one corner with ‘Deadbolt’, a vicious slab of furious modern metallic hardcore complete with a tectonic plate-moving bass sound that could melt concrete, and a fierce slurry of vocals, twin guitars and drums so bleak they sound like they’ve stared death in the face and knocked him the fuck out. And in the other corner stand a band who truly live up to their name. Genius song title aside, The Abominable Iron Sloth’s ‘Hats made of Veal and That New Car Scent’ is a down-tuned monolithic beast of a song, although to be honest I expect nothing less from a band containing ex-members of the mighty Will Haven.

It's not all as delightfully brutal though, up-and-coming UK metal band Malefice are a solid if uninspiring collective, while Exit By Name can take their glitter-sprinkled whiny pop-core and go and stand in the corner next to Underoath.

It's great to see some rock'n roll on here, with NYC's Trashlight Vision and our very own G.U. Medicine. Barnsley may not be as grandiose as the Big Apple, but G.U. Medicine win this hands down with their Gluecifer-esque "A Meeting With Foul Play". Trashlight sound at times like a slightly harder/trashier Bouncing Souls, but sadly without the anchor-sized melody hooks.

Finishing off with some intense and fairly extreme metal (with solos!) from Johnny Mental, this comp shows that both labels have some exciting fresh talent on their books, and I look forward to seeing a few of these bands live.
www.myspace.com/undergroove1
www.hangmansjoke.net

JimmyP

 
 

Rainbow Chasers - Fortune Never Sleeps (Talking Elephant Records) 

Not being in anyway presumptuous, I think I’m pretty safe in saying very few of the Tasty demographic will have heard of Fairport Convention. Neither would I, if I didn’t have a dad who’s inclined to dabble in a bit of folk music now and again. And in the world of folk music, Fairport Convention are one of the heavyweights. They’ve seen more drama and line up changes than the Libertines.  

One of Fairport Conventiion’s former lead singers, Ashley Hutchings has got himself a new band together, who showcase a more mellow and accessible brand of folk. 

Using basic instrumentation- guitar, voila, and fiddle, Fortune Never Sleeps moves away from the “diddle dee” of most folk music and experiments with many different genres, such as the Spanish guitar at the start of A Far-Off Bay, and Poem, a spoken word track. 

Proving that music doesn’t need to be loud and manic to have an impact, this album shows what real musicians can do when they get together. Although it won’t be to everyone’s taste, you can’t fail to be moved by the haunting The Lost Bagpipe, and words sung softly mean a lot more than those shouted, as demonstrated in Think of me.  

Although in some songs it’s not a great quality, the violin and guitar melodies in Better Be Smart and Looking For A Change will ingrain themselves into your mind after only one listen, and after a second listen will undoubtedly induce a sing along. 

Ignore the dubious name, listen, and be surprised.
www.rainbowchasers.co.uk

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Vayizaku - It Begins

Ok, here we have a solo pop-punk artist, and one that seems eager to push the solo-aspect. You have to wonder why though, maybe it's pride at having played and recorded this all by yourself, or maybe it's a way of lowering expectations, who knows? Either way I don't think it's particularly relevant, while being commendable i don't think it should affect your opinion of the music itself so with open ears lets have a listen.

The most noticable thing on first listen is the poor quality of the production, the sound is thin like watered-down soup and if I had to guess I'd say it was recorded on a 4-track in someone's garage. The drums sound quite tinny and the vocals in places are terrible, although this may not be solely down to the production.

"Declined" is one of the better tracks off the album, sounding like it could be an early Blink 182 demo, while the opening to "Ocean" brings some much needed variety to the fore before ruining itself by going on for longer than absolutely necessary. "Us" has a catchy guitar riff but lacks the uplifting chorus to match. In fact that would be the most concerning thing for me, pop-punk is meant to be catchy with singalong choruses, but there's not one track here (except possibly the cover) that urges you to singalong with the CD. Oh yes, and there's the almost obligatory anti-president rant at the end too, but like the rest of the album it's devoid of any passion.

All in all it's pretty dull and uninspiring stuff, i imagine you could find a band of 17 year old kids doing this stuff in any town and probably doing it better. If I wanted to listen to modern pop-punk of this ilk then I'd listen to early New Found Glory/Blink 182, those guys knew how to have fun and they knew how to write basic hooks and singalong choruses. Taking this album on musical merit alone, it quite simply falls far short of anything I've heard in this genre.

Jam

 
 

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Definitive Jux) 

There is the main hip hop element, with the underlying beat of drum and bass, add a handful of grime and mix in pure emotion in the lyrics. This music is pure talent, without the usual arrogance of commercialised hip hop, there is no fake attitude in this music. A mixture of slower melodies and faster rhythms are what makes this album individual, it seems to have what music at the moment is lacking slightly. Realness.

The track on this album that stands out is “up all night”, which, in a few words, sounds like someone giving a drum kit a good twatting, with a bass line and melody that fit in between perfectly. The lyrics, “I might have been born yesterday, sir, but I stayed up all night”, are real and heavy, with meaning. This song is literally close to perfection.

The radio hip hop still stands clear in this album in some of the songs, but the difference is that there is something unique about this music, something that only occurs with raw talent and passion for what the music stands for.
www.definitivejux.net

Lydia Smith

 
 

The Mighty Roars - Swine and Cockerel 

For a punk band from London, this stuff really is good. The first song, “Sellotape” (as all the songs are appropriately named, rather than the usual crap) has a simple but effective melody that is emphasized by the furious drumming, finally being completed with the screeching vocals, making this track sound like three sexually aroused bulldogs in a sack.

The songs that follow this vibrant start to the album don’t disappoint either. The mix of punk indie rock is moved to different levels with “Whale” and other such named tracks. This vibrant, eclectic mix of musical talent proves what a bored hitch-hiker, an “escapologist” and a truck-driver really can do, when provided with guitars and a drum kit.

Lydia Smith

 
 

The Aliens – “Astronomy for Dogs” (Virgin) 

Gordon Anderson was famously an almost-member of The Beta Band, only to have to withdraw from the group in its infancy to spend the next ten years in and out of a psychiatric ward. Judging by this debut, he may also have spent a significant proportion of that time listening to The Beatles. Not that The Aliens don’t share their Scottish brethren’s affection for eclecticism - “Astronomy…” manages to pack in swirling ‘60s psychedelia (“Setting Sun”), ‘70s funk (“Robot Man”), and ‘80s piano balladry (“Honest Again”) into its 72 minutes – but the Fab Four are everywhere else. Check out the pure Merseybeat ancestry of “Tomorrow”, the way Gordon sounds just like a mournful Ringo on “She Don’t Love Me No More”, and the Harrison-inspired guitar solos all over the rollicking “The Happy Song”. 

Well, you can’t fault these extraterrestrial pop-alchemists on their influences, but it may go some way toward explaining why after only a week of listening I feel as though I’ve heard everything this record has to offer. The other problem will be familiar to anyone who has come away frustrated by Anderson’s Lone Pigeon solo project; he’s more of a sketch-artist than a songwriter, and a significant proportion of the tracks here are overlong explorations built on threadbare foundations (a single verse and refrain if you’re lucky). Say what you like about The Betas but at their best they maintained a distinct sense of focus, a quality all too frequently lacking here, and they never finished an album with a 16-minute studio fuck-about called “Caravan” either.
www.thealiens.co.uk

Will Columbine

 
 

Manatees – “Untitled” 

See, this is the thing about album reviews…you’ve got to give the records the time and space to grow on you (not easy when you’ve a stack of CDs on your desk waiting to be evaluated). Motive Sounds first metal-inspired release is actually a whole lot more than it first appears to be, the pummelling sludge guitars of opener “Xv:Xliv” suddenly evaporating into more sparse passages before finally coming to a burbling halt in a style akin to early Monster Magnet. “Viii:XVI” (seriously…what’s with these titles?) is an entirely different beast altogether, sounding like monks and tortured souls battling for vocal duties over tribal drums. “Iv:Xxxix” (ok…stop it now!) has Godspeed YBE written all over it…those bare, echoing chords, the ghostly taped voices in the background…before “X:XXVIii” brings everything full circle with 8 minutes of relentless riffage culminating in a blast of white noise. Not bad for a bunch of sea-cows.
www.motivesounds.com/press

Will Columbine

 
 

Haddonfield - Bar Brawls & Downfalls (Thousand Yard Stereo)

One look at the artwork and the song titles, and I'm expecting some gritty, no-holds-barred street punk rock. ‘Bar Brawls & Downfalls’ is however a more rounded mixture of melodic punk rock laced with moody guitar overtones and vocals to match.

The opening assault of ‘Panic’ kicks in with an eerie dual guitar melody, which is reminiscent of the trademark theme from the film they took their name from (Haddonfield being the name of the town in Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween). Throw in a few “Oi”s and a massively catchy chorus and the Welsh 4-piece have got themselves a great start to an EP.

The eerie guitar melodies continue throughout the EP and surround the solid slabs of punk rock like zombies around an unfortunate extra. ‘Romero’ particularly stands out, with its meaty guitar riffs coupled with horror flick lyrics and gang vocals.

The stronger elements of the EP keep it flowing, and although there are no wheels being reinvented here, what we do get is continually catchy choruses, gang vocals and sing-alongs all thrown into the mixer to create a strong collection of dark and driving melodic punk rock songs. Good stuff.
www.myspace.com/haddonfieldaction

JimmyP

 
 

The Stooges – “The Weirdness” 

Reunions are big business at the moment. The Police, Big Star, Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr…they’re all at it, which is great if you missed these bands the first time round. Personally, I blame the Pixies for showing how nostalgia = cash but at least they had the decency to stick to the classics and not attempt to put out new material. Lightning rarely strikes twice and, if “The Weirdness” is anything to go by, anyone who feels the urge deserves to be struck by lightning. 

So yeah, The Stooges…criminally ignored back in the day, put out three impeccable LPs that shaped punk rock as we know it before imploding in a mess of heroin, self-mutilation and peanut butter. Then, a few years back, Iggy ropes the Asheton brothers in to play on his last solo album. The results are deemed pleasing enough for someone to suggest that they reform and tour as The Stooges, culminating in a show at Hammersmith Apollo in late 2005 where they play their magnum opus “Fun House” from beginning to end. It is one of the best shows I can claim to have attended. So far, so good…so why ruin it? 

With Steve Albini at the helm, “The Weirdness” certainly can’t be faulted production-wise. The drums are punchy, the guitars are crunchy…but what does it matter when the whole project is stillborn? Make no mistake, the reason The Stooges made such great music was because no-one liked them and they didn’t give a fuck, whereas this just comes across like three old men trying to recreate a bygone era. Cue lyrics such as “My dick is turning into a tree” (“Trollin’”) and “My idea of fun/Is killing everyone” (“My Idea of Fun”), only sung with all the menace of a strangled cat. Indeed, hearing what the passing of time has done to Iggy’s vocal chords is perhaps the saddest aspect of all. As Mark Kermode would undoubtedly put it, everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Will Columbine

 
 

The Early Years - The Great Awakening (Beggar’s Banquet)

I maintain that the best work this band ever offered was committed to disc before the release of their debut, self-titled album. It’s maddening that the colossal ‘I Heard Voices’ and ‘So Far Gone Part Two’ never made it onto the running order of the album. Maddening even more so as ‘Say What I Want To’, the opener to this EP is a real let down.

If the Early Years allow their brand of Indie to further evolve in this direction, then they certainly run the risk of becoming as insipid as the Dandy Warhols. The track is very radio-friendly; the lyrics are achingly pedestrian and the music is as shallow and unarrousing as anything else contemporary on the British Indie scene. If the major radio stations take an interest it will mean big money for the band (and bully for them), but it’s guaranteed to leave a lot of earned fans (including this one) disappointed.

But fortunately…

…we leave behind all that nonsense when we arrive at ‘On Fire’, a track notable for its luxurious likeness to the mellower works of Kraftwerk and having one up on the German power-station, The Early Years have included some joyous lyrics that give the piece its extra dimension. Now we’re getting closer…

… Autumn Song is a glorious piece that really embodies the title. It’s warm without being overbearing; it’s elegant without being demanding and like the seasonal occurrence, it’s both a joy to behold and far too short. Couldn’t they just have off-loaded to ‘Say What I Want To’ to some sunshine on the Virgin airwaves and made ‘Autumn Song’ twice as long? Phew! We’ve arrived… ‘A Little More Version Two’ is the Early Years that I know and love. Sadly there are no lyrics, but the sumptuous music curtains off the singing quite tastefully. Ah yes, the guitar swells, the electronic meandering, rising into a saunter; the undulations becoming ululations. It’s all here, people.

I’ve been fortunate enough to watch this band grow up, but the cringe-worthy ‘Say What I Want To’ reminds me of the timeless adage, ‘’all beauty is ephemeral’’. However, listening to the rest makes me confident that this band can laugh in the face of God and break the trend. Come on – somebody has to.

Alex Clark

 
 

Hearts of Black Science - ‘Empty City Lights’ 

The sinister suggestiveness of a title such as Hearts of Black Science says it all. Mystery, ambiguity, and conflict, the name of choice produces exactly what you think it would: shady musical sorcery with a pulse. Of Gothenburg, Sweden, Hearts of Black Science release single ‘Empty City Lights,’ an icy cast of cloudy pop. Vocalist/guitarist/bassist Daniel Änghede and synthesizer/beats programmer slickly assemble accounts of urban isolation and dark frailty, like the musical equivalent of the deepest, darkest coloured lace. Representative of everything that sets Scandinavian pop apart, silky melancholy exerts an industrial coldness without unnerving confrontation or threatening intimidation. While it preserves an austere sense of detachment and distance, it’s accessible without selling its soul to cheap musical citations.  

‘Empty City Lights’ opens with the flight of a winningly optimistic guitar melody as Änghede’s husky whisper maintains the same sense of buoyancy and escape. While sustaining a sense of positive energy, a definite bleak facet streaks its way poignantly and mournfully. ‘Revolvers’ echoes everything that made the 1980s golden age of electro-pop and new-romantic movement moving, exuding insular and provocative music for the nocturnal. The wintry guitar is murkier, the groove moves at a more unhurried pace, establishing a musical range of satisfying measure. It’s peaceful, but haunting; it’s content, but worrisome. It’s this particular contradiction that makes Hearts of Black Science a most exciting prospect.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

The Mayors of Miyazaki – Kancho (unsigned)

I'll be honest here from the start: I listened to this once when it arrived on my doorstep, and didn't touch it again for a fortnight. But everything gets a second chance in my book, and I'm glad I came back to this. With an eccentric blend of quirky post hardcore and shouty math rock, Londoners The Mayors of Miyazaki present their debut EP Kancho. At times complex yet strangely maintaining its catchiness throughout, hints of The Blood Brothers and Shellac are whispered in my ear, yet that ‘special something’ seems to constantly elude their grasp. It may be merely personal preference, but I think this band would benefit from a slightly harder edge, not necessarily more distorted guitars or a more "metal" sound, but perhaps knock it up a notch on the intensity front and tone down the moments of random jazz.

The production is top notch and is complemented by undeniably tight performances from all band members. This is certainly better on second listen. Conjuring up images of urban cityscapes one minute and smoky jazz clubs the next, The Mayors are the sound of a complex, bustling city that never stops moving. Kancho is also catchy as hell, which on first listen is something I never expected it to be. With a bit of fine tuning and a tablespoon more of intensity thrown into the mix, The Mayors of Miyazaki could be on to something good here. I'll be watching this lot closely.
http://www.mayorsofmiyazaki.com

JimmyP

 
 

The Keys - ‘Outside/In the Wild/For a While’ 

Montreal’s Boris Paillard is The Keys, a one-man fanciful- folk band. Recent release ‘Outside /In the Wild/For a While’ emerges as the musical account of some grey May days in Toulouse, France. Despite the cloudy circumstances, ‘Outside/In the Wild/For a While’ scampers with rays of upbeat optimism and D.I.Y. appeal.

Introductory track ‘The Sea is a Song’ streams a trace of misty waves and the sparkling air about it. A bluesy, but bubbly island acoustic guitar riff fades in, fades out, and is rapidly captured by Paillard’s curious timbre. Paillard’s sing-speak form of storytelling is that of an acquired taste, as it fiercely contrasts with the somewhat tranquil instrumental direction. The result is a modern approach to minimalist chord progressions reminiscent of cultural folk tunes with this additional contemporary-infused character. Defined by familiar lyrical directions of heartache, friendship, and self reflection, but approached with an unfamiliar delivery. It is like an Avant-garde- French-Canadian version of down-south-Appalachian chants, fully equipped with snaps, claps, and whistles.  

‘She’s Not the One’ takes off with haste and moves with wavering energy. The additional support of background vocals produces a communal, collective sense of merriment while Paillard takes a turn at the harmonica. ‘My Friend Jed’ treks through itself almost entirely by whistling while ‘Pills for Thrills’ looms the darker terrain of an obsessive, desolate guitar solo. The solo is muddy and soulful, a hefty disparity from the cooperative sing-song unkemptness of the previous tunes. ‘The Noise of Your Fingers’ exudes a reflective, whimsical sentimentality, a sign that the album is winding down, as failing to recover from the bluesy, ‘Pills for Thrills.’  

The Keys simply represent a form nearly non-existent these days. The dying craft of modern risks combined with familiar, folk traditions is often difficult to face in its seemingly musical malformation. Boris Paillard’s peculiar voice is worth the experience if you’re willing to take the risk.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

Phil Honey-Jones - Naked And Naive

I don't normally recommend overly-relying falsetto singing, but in this case, when Phil Honey-Jones does go for the high stuff it tends to bring a welcome respite.

That introduction is too harsh though, because as the album progresses flourishes of great song writing become more evident, until by the end they are abundant.

At times his voice tends to sound a bit too pub rock, which means over-pronouncing every word and singing it as loud and as powerfully as possible, which is admirable, but isn't effective when the rest of your song is based on acoustic chord driven melodies.

So that's how the album introduces itself on a first listen, but don't write it off, maybe his vocal style will appeal to some. The rest of the music is certainly nothing to be ashamed off. Normally I don't like to use antonyms, but I'm going to here; the sound is effortlessly complex.

Delivered with conviction despite a questionable title, Mine Enemy U is a well rounded song that introduces more ingredients, which in English means rhythm section and strings. It is a welcome addition and it distracts you from the slightly cringe-worthy lyric, 'my blood rushes through my angry veins', which jarrs with the sound of the rest of the song.

The album doesn't look like it will progress much from there, by the time you get to Twilight (track 8) you'd be forgiven for thinking the formula is well established.

But surprises await. Good surprises at that. Through The Mirror (track 9) contains more than a complementary smattering of electric guitar, which is a definitely a breath of fresh air.

The ghostly Mrs. Red is pretty cool and haunting, although when the vocals start to play backwards, you can't help but smirk a little bit.

The last three tracks on the album are the highlights for me.

Bop-De-Bop is a fun rhythm and blues infused song where Honey-Jones' voice seems to sound much more at home - more of this stuff earlier on would have brought the album up a notch. Crazy Drug, a softer song, all about drugs, is not subtle at all, but nice to listen to thanks to cool guitar fills and clever chord progression. The chorus is definitely one to nod your ahead along to approvingly.

Dancing Duel is instrumental. Eastern influences shine throughout this song, which sounds unlike the rest of the album, which at the beginning, is a little bit samey - this one again stands out proudly from the rest as an example of beautiful song writing - my favourite track on the album. Although some crazy gypsy lady laughs in the last few bars, which seemed a little unnecessary.

So it starts off a bit repetitive but rewards patience with some excellent sounding stuff at the end, which is definitely worth listening to. If he concentrates on developing that aspect of his sound, I look forward to hearing what Phil Honey-Jones comes up with next.

Nick Wood

 
 

Cajun Dance Party - ‘The Next Untouchable’

Possibly one of the most misleading band names I‘ve ever encountered, I was slightly disappointed to hear an average-to-good indie band instead of a full-on festival in my earphones.

Londoners Cajun Dance Party are reminiscent of Young Knives without the witty lyrics or Mystery Jets without the satisfying harmonies. However, these comparisons are testament to the fact that CDP fit the current zeitgeist for creative, heartfelt indie with rhythmic pop sensibilities. They certainly tick the right boxes on this, their debut single. The lead singer, Daniel Blumberg has an earnest voice, befitting of his teenage years, particularly well suited to the energetic, catchy thrust of ‘The Next Untouchable’. The B side is a little lacklustre by comparison, and less interesting lyrically, although it does show more versatility to Blumberg’s voice and a willingness to try something a little different; a promising sign on a debut single.

Tessa Hall

 
 

Cut - A Different Beat (Homesleep Records)

Imagine yourself strolling through lengthy uniform rows of olive trees twisting and mothering their crisp fruit beneath the baking Sicilian sun. Or try placing yourself in the pooling shade of a town’s grey-stone belfry at twilight. Sure, the ephemeral beauty of nature dictates that its inhabitants will always be changing, but it’s beguiling to know that the piazza itself probably hasn’t changed at all in 350 years.

If like me, you’re conjuring these images, you’ll be harbouring some comforting thoughts on the more genteel side of Italian life. And now to send that dreamy vision of yours crashing to the ground in a ball of flame – Cut are the absolute antithesis of that idyllic dream. Their brand of punk and driving rock, with its subtle blues nuances is a wall to wall autowreck of smashing guitars and desperate vocals. Every song is a riotous adrenaline-sodden rocker in which Cut leave not one second unfulfilled or unexplored. 

They’re grungy, dirty, downright sleazy and generally nothing that I would normally associate with Italian produce. Poor ol’ naive me... 

They invite their label-mates, Julie’s Haircut, to run amok in their self-styled playground of mayhem on the track ‘Nightride’ and it’s an invitation they greedily accept. The throbbing, red hot jazz embellished rock that they inject into the song gives the album an extremely luxurious climax. This is rock music to be savoured.

Alex Clark

 
 

Kristin Hersh - 'Learn to Sing Like a Star'

The knowing irony of Kristin Hersh’s album title is that her appeal rests largely on the fact that she sings nothing like a star; frankly, she sings more like a cat, albeit in the best possible way. Her distinctive gravelly yet sugary voice, sometimes purring, sometimes growling, is immediately recognisable, setting her apart from any of the so called stars of mainstream pop and rock charts. This, matched with her knack for wise, witty lyrics - see for example ‘you’re a sight, you look like someone dressed as you’ on ‘Sugar Baby’ - has made her a force to be reckoned with for over a decade, originally with Throwing Muses, but now long established as a solo artist.

Her latest collection offers more of the same: brooding, intelligent, rock music, powered by the unique qualities of that voice. The problem with a distinctive voice is that often it automatically becomes the most memorable thing about the music, which after several albums can give the listener a sense of deja vu. This is not helped by the fact that there is little variation in tone or pace of songs here, their sweet yet sinister melodies driven by acoustic guitars, percussion and strings. However, subtle variations of the formula and the sheer versatility of Hersh’s voice redeem this album, and on some tracks, prove that Hersh is capable of doing far more than retreading familiar territory. For example, while the throbbing chorus and title of ‘Under the Gun’, offer an echo of ‘Bright Yellow Gun’ from Throwing Muses’ ‘95 ‘University’ album, its melancholy atmosphere and the mythical undertones of the lyrics- ‘a lover on a night with no moon’ - set it apart. Highlights include ‘Winter’, with its rousing chorus and backing of ominous bells and pulsing drums. Also memorable is ‘Vertigo’, in which the simplest acoustic guitar refrain provides a breathing space between bars of dense strings. The song also demonstrates how Hersh’s real power is the ability to make a line such as ‘isn’t this wonderful?’ into the most mournful utterance of the entire album. Similarly, a title like ‘Sugar Baby’ wouldn’t be out of place on the album of a wholesome American ‘star’ like Jessica Simpson, which is precisely why its so satisfying to hear it coming from Hersh, snarling.

Tessa Hall

 
 

The Heise Bros. - The Continuing Saga of...(Choose to Lose)

'The Continuing Saga of The Heise Brothers' opens with the wonderfully off kilter 'Seven Long Years' - a mammoth key driven rock and roll number reminiscent of the Charlatans or even the Stones. Unexpected key changes and a plethora of musicians add a neat zest. At their most languid, Nelson's vocals have a touch of Lou Reed about them, at their most terse - the Jaggers surface.

There's an ongoing joie de vivre about the record - a joy in simply writing and recording that is lost in a lot of album recordings. 'The Continuing Saga..' is an unremittingly polite record in terms of not trying to introduce too many new themes with each song but still just adding a cheeky glimpse of creativity, perhaps prophesised by 'Staying the Same'. This could lead to sameyness but I think the song writing just about stands up against this accusation. It may not rock your socks off but it is thoroughly agreeable.
www.theheisebros.com

SB

 
 

Bella Union Sampler - ‘Beneath the Surface’

This is sampler uncovers some of the gems on the Bella Union label, revealing the rudely healthy state the indie label is in this year. Although the artists included are eclectic and often unusual, they are united by their creativity, craftsmanship, and a shared atmosphere of melancholic beauty, which permeates all of the songs. The result is an album that flows effortlessly between vocal and instrumental, experimental and old-fashioned, epic and low-key. Among the bigger names are the brooding Howling Bells and honey-voiced Fionn Regan, both of whose offerings here go some way to explaining why they enjoyed such a successful 2006, alongside the much talked about Midlake, whose track Bandits is gorgeous: rousing yet understated, and one of the standouts on the sampler. Another is Robert Gomez’s Closer Still, a deliciously moody number that pulses with tension. His later collaboration with new signing Stephanie Dosen is less exhilarating, although her distinctive, delicate voice, showcased on two tracks on the sampler, marks her as one to watch for this year. The most unique track on the album is Under Byen’s ‘den her sang handler om at fa det bedste ud af det’ (try requesting that at your local indie club night), which begins with a thumping bass drum and spidery string-plucking and soon builds into a multilayered audio feast in which percussion that sounds suspiciously like spoons sits comfortably alongside orchestral strings and electric guitar, all glued together by the insistent whispering vocal. Bewitching, and strangely addictive; much like many of the tracks here. Well worth your money if you’ve ever enjoyed a Bella Union artist before and want to know if there’s more where that came from.

Tessa Hall

 
 

das Oath – ‘das Oath’ (Three One G) 

das Oath offer hardcore at its absolute finest. This is fast, aggressive, petulant stuff but with enough of a groove to enable the angry young listener to flail around in a suitably spasmodic fashion. The track ‘The Terror, the Delight and the Unendurable Pointlessness of Trying’ particularly stands out. One single repetitive riff throughout, howling feedback, pounding drums and the vocalist Mark McCoy’s shrill vocals sounding very angry indeed. Perhaps mislaid car keys or a particularly bad stubbed toe could be the source of his rage. Anyway the remainder of the album is of a similar ilk, a work of great variety or originality this isn’t. But for that to be a critique would miss the point. I listened to this on the bus on the way to work this morning and it made me want to wildly punch the air and start shoving fellow commuters in the hope of initiating some sort of ‘pit’. That cannot be a bad thing.  

Michael Pearson