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  albums - may 2007

 

 


 

The Disappointments - Reason to Revolt (Fierce Panda) 

This 6 track mini album from Stoke-on-Trent's young punk upstarts  is energetic, lively and fast paced: everything a truly listenable punk outfit should be, one might say. With none of the tracks over three minutes and the usual sneering vocals over poppy riffs combo in place though, it's something of a 'modern punk rock by numbers' album, lacking any real integrity and direction. Nothing particularly stands out from the myriad of similar bands littering the scene at the moment.

'I can't remember my name' implores lead vocalist Fox on stoner track 'Marijuana'. Sure to be a hit then.

Taking onboard that this band are just seventeen years old it's not a bad effort but it's not exactly revolutionary either.

Ruth Holmes

 

The Kings of Reggae: Compiled by David Rodigan and Sting International (BBE & Rapster) 

The first selection, from David Rodigan, now one of Reggae’s most famous and respected DJ’s, is firmly rooted in the classic decade of the 1970’s, when Rodigan himself began his career. Featuring a scattering of essential classics, like Junior Murvin’s, ‘Police & Thieves’, Burning Spear’s, ‘Marcus Garvey’ and Jimmy Cliff’s, ‘The Harder They Come’  but with enough obscure gems to interest those already having an extensive reggae collection. Aside from the already mentioned, highpoints for me were, the absolute perfection of Marcia Griffiths, ‘Dreamland’ and John Holt, ‘Police in Helicopter’, both reminder’s of the many exceptional vocalists that populated 1970’s reggae. 

The second selection, from Sting International, producer of the platinum selling artist, ‘Mr Boombastic’, ‘Shaggy’, brings the collection more up to date, covering the 1980’s and 1990’s, with tracks from ‘superstars’, like Dennis Brown, Yellowman, Coco Tea, and Lone Ranger, tracing the development of the macho toasting, ‘boasting’ DJ vocal style and reggae’s fascination with the M16 and gangster culture, balanced with some righteous songs, like ‘Roll Call’ from Tenor Saw; the blend of biblical references, solid backline and added moog bassline on Dennis Brown’s ‘Here I Come’ and, for me, the standout track, ‘Work Us So Hard’ by Little John.  And, years since I first heard it, I’m still not sure about, Ranking Dread’s, ‘Fattie z Boom’, or ‘Hey Fatty Bum Bum’ as the kids down my street called it at the time. 

In a market saturated by excellent, budget compilations, this is perhaps not one of the strongest contenders, but still it has much to recommend. Upful, feel good music, the perfect soundtrack as the days grow longer and the nights get warmer.

Bill Howe

 
 

Pest Sounds- 76 Kilo's laughing (Stuntkite Recordings) 

I like this record instantly. It's both dysfunctional and ultimately accessible, epic and soulful all at once. Darkly compelling without being overly pretentious, the sweetness of the piano parts cuts right through the rigid rhythm section on opener 'Prizefighter' then as soon as it's begun it's morphed into gruelling guitar-driven track 'Tape Deck'. Alternating between stage whispers, high pitched vocals and frenzied spoken word, the constant chop and change format works well on this album. 'Tailspin' is a sheer beauty of a track, sung with real meaning, a lyrically abstract oddball of an almost-ballad.

This Strasbourg-based foursome have the magical gift of creating an epic listen without having to exceed the 5 minute mark on a single song. 'The Alsace Samurai' has hints of bluesy guitar as well as more distinct nudges towards grunge.

A veritable train wreck of an album with a sugary edge, if you like your music not be pigeonholed then this is for you.

Ending on a somewhat psychotic note, 'I Am The Golden Gun' is whimsical, furious bass-laden heaviness interspersed with gentle eeriness. It will refresh you, then knock you over, then pick you back up again. 

Ruth Holmes

 
 

Mark Templeton – Standing On a Hummingbird 

Mark Templeton’s first full-length outing makes use of guitar, accordion and banjo, amongst other instruments, alongside digital processing. 

I’ve really struggled to write this review because for almost the entire time I’m listening to ‘Standing On a Hummingbird’ I’m thinking how much better at this kind of music Tim Hecker and Christian Fennesz are. The influence of these two artists is felt so heavily across this album that I’ve been fighting the urge to write the album off as ‘copyist’, un-adventurous and just plain fucking dull. I’d love to be Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz too, but I’m not about to release an album copying their style gratuitously, adding nothing new to the sound and ending up with an album gloriously bland and weak. I think that perhaps the important difference between Mark Templeton and the aforementioned Fennesz and Hecker is that with ‘Standing On a Hummingbird’ the songs seem obscured beneath layers of fuzz and processing (and are less so because of this process); in the case of TH and CF the processing gives the songs their ‘feel’ and new, gorgeous soundscapes appear through the fuzz. It’s like Templeton has half-heartedly adopted a way of working which achieves results that aren’t as good as if he’d either left the original work alone or gone all out to process the source sounds out of all recognition. 

The digital processing of the acoustic instruments seems almost like an afterthought, a ‘how can I appeal to a specific audience?’ type of move. I’d actually be much more interested in hearing Mark Templeton’s work without any digital trickery as I have a feeling that he’s probably a relatively accomplished musician, capable of creating genuinely interesting ambient music.  

All the above is a really round-about way of saying that ‘Standing On a Hummingbird’ incredibly boring. 

Frazer Shelton

 
 

Vatican DC- Make It Ride (Red Flag Recordings) 

Ooh. I don't quite know what to make of this. There's a bit of sparky synth, a lot of punchy beats, and a rather demanding lyric. 'Wow' is a good track to open with, and quite aptly titled considering. It makes an impact; it's electronic but not a million miles away from OK Go and Hot Hot Heat. Second track 'Sparks' is a different thing altogether. It starts of like some sort of anthemic punk rock song building into feisty frolics of poppy guitars and plucky bass, with that same vocal you really have to listen to rounding off the choruses nicely. Smashing.

'She Takes Me Out' is dancey, angular offering, not dissimilar to the likes of Bloc Party and so on. 'Bugs' may be my pick of this record, it's a slowed down, new wave pop punk shimmy that really appeals.  A pleasant enough, summery tinged album, somewhat more three dimensional than the usual London-esque indie bollocks, but still familiar enough to keep the kids in the skinny jeans happy.  

Ruth Holmes

 

Rafael Anton Irisarri – Daydreaming 

Taking the piano as his starting point, Rafael Anton Irisarri here crafts an intriguing, ponderous album. ‘Daydreaming’ is by no means merely a piano only album as Irisarri utilises synthesizers, guitars, speldosa and cellos as well as other instruments I can’t quite identify. 

Majestic soundscapes humming with feedback nestle up against bare piano tracks oozing melancholy. ‘Daydreaming’ is a pretty engrossing album, content to take it’s time to draw you in and reveal its charms. On first listen I was relatively unimpressed. This is not the ‘fault’ of this album though, music this melancholic requires a certain amount of concentration (or the right frame of mind), to let it slip into your unconsciousness. Further listens allowed the album to unfold gracefully, disclosing a deftness of touch many albums of this type struggle to attain. I think perhaps it’s Irisarri’s musicianship that allows for this cohesion and quality to shine through: Irisarri is credited in the liner notes with playing ‘synthesizer and piano; acoustic, electronic and non-conventional instruments’. I’m intrigued to know what the ‘non-conventional’ instruments are! (Sadly, internet searches about this mystery are not very helpful). 

Although there is often rather a lot going on within any given track, Irisarri is content to let the piano speak clearly for the most part, seemingly disinclined to muddy the sound too much with digital processing or the massively over-used (for this type of music) found-sound ‘fuzz’, which all too often seems to be the default way for a producer to add atmosphere to ambience.  

Piano’s have become slightly clichéd in today’s ambient ‘scene’, the deluge of albums focusing on this instrument in the past couple of years has made it increasingly harder to sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Here, we have an album worth taking the time to appreciate.  

Frazer Shelton

 
 

*Sons - ‘Viracochas’

A combination including remnants of Boston’s Suntan, Chapel Hill’s A Problem of Alarming Dimensions, and Arkansas’ APOAD, *Sons bring their own uniquely hypnotic brand of shoegaze in latest effort, ‘Viracochas.’ This nonchalant-meets-unkempt sense of the band’s history, appearing like a spontaneous, jumbled gathering of random odds and ends of different bands, completely translates into their blasé, but dreamily hypnotic sound.

First track Wax Museum creeps up on you with lone percussion including an obsessive tambourine and suspenseful assortments. An encompassing, foggy guitar melody picks up, leading the entrance of intensely-echoic vocals, cloudily filling up the atmosphere. Additional instruments make way, but rather than create a thick, soupy sensuality, the music sustains a weightless, reflective quality. It is vividly sunny but somehow completely nocturnal, it’s completely consuming, but completely muted and understated at the same time. Following track Kill the Culprit is a night and day contrast, as it gets up and goes straight away, reminiscent of early rock more than late shoegaze. Melodic rhythms embedded in guitarist/vocalist Scott Endres’ lyrical croon light the way, guiding a densely circular and magnetic instrumental organicism. Fuzzy guitar flights lead into an explosive rock jam that satisfyingly speaks of an older, less tainted time of rock ‘n roll, triumphant and positive. ‘Viracochas’ continues to change, freely transforming and swirling rock genres en masse to create a persuasive and seductive trance-like state.

‘Viracochas’ is an eerie, but ethereal voyage through innovative musical mishmashes. *Sons’ intensely mesmerizing musical haze swiftly winningly represents rock’s best outfits from visceral psychedelic to stunning shoegaze to raw garage. Despite the poignant difference in the styles, *Sons’ fusions are fantastically alluring.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

Radical Face - Ghost (Morr Music) 

Welcome to the wonderful dreamworld of Ben Cooper, his musical guise ‘Radical Face’ and his exploration of the far-slung channels of his mind, ‘Ghost’. 

Ben Cooper doesn’t live in a house built of inert clay and stone, but he resides in a tangible soul; a living and conscious entity that rises up and stretches over him and this is his muse for expressing himself through sound.  

The swaying doors to the backroom parlours of his mind whisper to him tales of the good and lamentable and the spitting embers of logs burning in the iron range remind him of past experiences drifting slowly away with the ebbing sands of time.  

On a pine table in the kitchen by the mantle, an assortment of letters, some new and some old contain a detailed biographical account of the man’s life. To the top of the pile, recent correspondence tells him of forsaken lovers belonging to recent history; they chide him for passed ships in the night and for flames that burnt exclusively in his minds aperture of burning desire. Beneath the surface, a parchment of arcane prose tells him of long-dead ancestors; genetic cartographers who, in short, have sculptured Cooper and given him identity. 

A letter on the surface lies wax-sealed and stamped by the Gods. It isn’t to be opened for it holds the story of Cooper’s future.  

I implore anybody taken in by the concept of this enthralling album to at once seek out the literary tale, ‘The House of the Past’, by Algernon Blackwood. I cannot speak highly enough about that piece which ought well to be an Edwardian forerunner of this superb album by Ben Cooper.

Alex Clark

 

Loney Dear – Loney Noir

Music can offer more than aural excitement. Something you hear one day may turn your stomach in nonchalant excitement, but another day, you may just hear Loney Dear, quite possibly one of the greatest musician in the world today. Emil Svanängen takes the art of music to a whole new level of discovery, a level of aural ecstasy that’ll send your taste buds clawing for a piece of the action, leaving a giddy smile spread wide across your face.

Loney Dear is Swedish multi instrumentalist Emil Svanängen his cult status in Sweden is yet to grip the UK but with four self released albums created in about as many years from his own tiny Stockholm studio apartment there’s plenty of time to take over the world. His pocket orchestral sound and spine chilling melodies burst from the speakers into a gambolling crescendo of heavenly music. His ‘Sologne’ record of 2005 was released in 2006 via Something in Construction. ‘Loney Noir’ also of 2005 is the follow up album released on Regal records April 2007. This means that there is yet more to come from this tireless musician and if you can’t wait for the next two of his back catalogue to be released you can buy them on CD-R format off his website (Loneydear.com)

If you are familiar with Loney Dear already ‘Loney Noir’ is a continuation of the high standards set by ‘Sologne’ last year. It continues to amaze me how Emil produces such a complex, but clear sound. Each instrument is perfectly placed and perfectly played throughout. Live Loney Dear is not to be missed, his talent is clear to see, and his songs are intuitive folk pop gems. 5/5 without a shadow of a doubt.
Watch the video to 'I am john'
http://www.loneydear.com

Gareth Ludkin

 
 

Santa Maria - Santa Maria (Slottet)

Santa Maria is an album of lovely, melodious pop songs that’re quaint, gentle and finely suited to a warm summers’ morning. Fans of cool music, with meandering guitars and refreshing vocals will dig this offering from the Swedish Maria Eriksson and her large band of guitarists, organists, multiple percussionists, oboers and sawers (surely the latter cannot be the lumberjack shirt wearing heavy, straight from a timber yard? Surely not possible in music this delicate).  

Santa Maria offers a music that’s well worth a debate – but a polite and pedestrian debate at that. Santa Maria’s sound is pleasant, but not memorable, it possesses a roomy presence, yet it doesn’t resonate well. It’s a popcorn thrill – fun whilst it lasts.

Do I detect a Theremin on ‘Blank Face’? Strange that an instrument so maligned – an instrument that packs a hell of a punch in Vincent Price films, and irritates the hell out of us in bands born out of an art-school common room – makes its way onto a record as polite and considered as this. Of course I’m all for it… 

All in all, not a bad collection of pop songs, but pop songs are pop songs, right?

Alex Clark

 
 

Enter Shikari – 'Take To The Skies’ 

If you read any music press (and you do) you will have heard of this “underground sensation”. You’ll know of the MySpace revolution and you’ll know their name. You’ll probably have felt all underground about it as well. I saw them at Download last year, so I can hardly claim underground credentials either. They were very good though and I left expecting a lot from them. 

The first word shouted on the album is a throat ripping “shiiiiiiiiiiit!” And my first thought was that their singer is another proponent of ‘regional singing’. The phenomenon of accentuating your own accent more in your singing voice than your talking. He’s not alone, but it’s starting to grate. 

I was thinking about their blending of dance beats and rock. They aren’t exactly pioneers of this; the Happy Mondays did it, AFI have been doing it every now and then, Jesus Jones did it too, so did Fear Factory. In fact I’m surprised it is not done more, especially in metal where blast beats and speed could happily accommodate some pulsing trance. It could be very easy for this all to become a gimmick, a race to the end that could even outpace Iron Maiden. 

Fortunately, here that isn’t always the case. My first worry was always ‘why would they include the dance elements? What would they replace or what would they use them to achieve?’ My fear was that they would just program a guitar solo into a synthesizer and replace strings for bleeps. I didn’t get the impression that that was what they had done. Instead, the programming can give the songs a sense of hyperactive urgency. The same urgency you’d sense in a good dance track as it heads towards a crescendo, but also the thrill you get just before a big riff kicks in. This can only be very good, and the occasions where this occurs on this album are very special. There are instances where the programming and dance bleeps seem to be going around the song rather than being part of it; Enter Shikari (track 2) being a case in point. The programming is clearly instead of a guitar part, rather than a part in its own right. Anything Can Happen (track 4) gets much closer to being a complete song - the samples compliment the song. It’s certainly more lyrically adept than the previous tracks – Enter Shikari has a potentially annoying penchant for chant and group shouting.  

The songs on this album work best when they are rock songs with the successful incorporation of dance. When it is the other way round they lose the best elements of each. Mothership and Anything Can Happen...are very good, Labyrinth is even better. At their most catchy they are similar in style to the Lostprophets (who also use programming and dance-rate beats.)

I get the impression that the lead single Sorry, You’re Not A Winner was where the band’s aims were first fully realised. It’s certainly a very good advert for their style. Metal(ica)-esque drumming, riffs, shouting/chanting and more tuneful singing. This is a pretty good song. Johnny Sniper may be a cover, but not of a song - a video game theme. I like it; I think it’s a fun song, but as far as novel ideas? Dragonforce have been doing this for a while.

All the songs are pretty good. It gets a little tiresome that they have included so many interludes, but even those can work well and take you from one song to another. My only real problems with these songs arise when the dance beats or rock riffs seem superfluous. That happens, but rarely (and early on in the album). The final song Adieu sounds like a ballad they felt they had to write. That’s a shame.  

Not as ground-breaking as they’d like, not as catchy as it could have been. Still a very good album. Still a good idea, well used.

Christopher Carney

 
 

Wolf & Cub - Vessels (4AD)

Here come Wolf & Cub with their deeply satisfying blend of stylish Indie and psychedelic post-rock. To describe their debut album as energetic would be an understatement; it’s as if they’re inspired and driven by forces alien to our lives. The sonic onslaught is remorseless; play this album loud enough and your speakers may just burst into flames. 

Wolf & Cub march triumphantly through their album and leave no sonic terrain unconquered; they obliterate lesser bands and by the time the album draws to a close, the name ‘Wolf & Cub’ will be hewn into your soul, becoming highly revered in your proud experience and knowledge of life’s most sumptuous of luxuries – rock music.  

The kind of contemporary rock that I’m especially taken by is the kind of song that defies categorisation; it slips loosely into that musical X-file – ‘post rock’. It’s the kind of song that laughs in the face of conformity and adheres to no rock protocol. It’s the song that begins humble and broods with simmering and marauding guitars with a roaming and untamed bass. It’s the song that’s a fiery blend of guitar swells, chesty bass and fills the room with a dark, dark presence of foreboding. If that sounds like your bag, then check out ‘Hammond’. It’s memorable.

Alex Clark

 
 

Arctic Monkeys -Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino) 

The MySpace revenge has begun, and it should be coming home to roost for Arctic Monkeys. Even though they weren’t aware of the phenomenon when their own demos were uploaded by fans, the power of internet music has probably benefited them more than most. Trouble is, it took a large dose of hype to force an underground movement into the daily press. In spite of the unprecedented success of debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in 2006, there were knives being sharpened. Lily Allen, another beneficiary of MySpace, is burning out in a very public way, and having difficulty writing a second album.

The signs were not good for Arctic Monkeys in justifying their tag as the next great British band. There will always be media pressure, and even if it’s unfair on four very young musicians, the public want to knock you off the pedestal they constructed for you. It’s the coconut shy syndrome – you need some very strong glue to keep from falling. In the past year they grabbed two number one singles and an album, released a stop-gap EP that generated accusations of money-grabbing, got slagged off by the NME for not becoming a flashy stage-act like Muse, and lost founder member and bassist Andy Nicholson. Add all the touring, and Favourite Worst Nightmare seems less like an album title and more of a case of wishful thinking.

Lead single ‘Brianstorm,’ a pumped-up, ground-down Ecstasy pill of a tune, opens FWN with a purpose that we’re used to by the Sheffield quartet. It’s tiring to even listen to, so what it must be like to play live is open to question. It’s a fantastic statement of intent, with the quirky lyrics of the band’s debut still in place but with an added musical dimension. It takes less than three minutes to realise Arctic Monkeys are better than they ever were.

The first five songs on Favourite Worst Nightmare all clock in at less than three minutes, and you’re halfway through the album before the first slowie. This doesn’t mean they’ve just knocked out some cookie-cutter clubbing crossovers; far from it, ‘Teddy Picker,’ ‘D is for Dangerous’ and ‘Balaclava’ are what made us love the group’s songs in the first place – self contained stories and great tunes. New bassist Nick O’Malley really shines and gives the Monkeys real depth. They cite the Prodigy as an influence on the record, and while the tempo of the new material bears this out, there’s splashes of The Smiths at their most playful and funkadelic.

One great decision they’ve made is to give the music equal billing to Alex Turner’s vocals. Not that he’s a bad singer, but they were getting a reputation for being smart-alecky and gimmicky, with the young street poet motif becoming a hindrance rather than a selling point. Putting him lower in the mix takes the pressure off him somewhat, while giving Favourite Worst Nightmare the chance to breathe musically. Honestly, they’ve not put a foot wrong.

‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ is ‘Mardy Bum’ redux, with added rhythm. One of the most eyebrow-raising songs on the debut, ‘Mardy Bum’ was the song that convinced most people they were dealing with a rare talent in Turner, yet he’s done more than bang out a carbon copy. Essentially a look at what happens when the passion goes out of a relationship, the song is destined for festival dancing and winsome looks in indie pubs.

The aforementioned slowie comes in the form of ‘Only Ones Who Know,’ just Turner and his guitar, and it shines. In fact, taken in tandem with closer ‘505,’ this is Arctic Monkeys at their best. They show maturity, and let’s face it, they were never going to stretch the tales of nightclubs and Northern life beyond their first two LPs. Being forced to write on the road gives them no fear, and the lyrics are more philosophical. It’s like the difference between Alan Bennett and Philip Larkin, both quintessential Englishmen, but different in tone. Some of the lyrics here could easily be compared to High Windows-era Larkin.

If there are niggles, and it’s okay for an outstanding record to have them, it’s that there’s a lack of obvious singles. Whether that matters to you is a matter of opinion, but it couldn’t hurt to have a few more anthems like ‘When the Sun Goes Down.’ The whole piece is sure to be chanted word-for-word during Arctic Monkeys’ Old Trafford gigs this summer, but there’s nothing that leaps out. Maybe it’s because the album is a coherent whole as opposed to great singles and filler tracks. Singles are for kids, it seems.

The word that follows this album around is ‘triumph.’ It’s hard to sound balanced when reviewing a record of this calibre, and as far as comebacks go, this just shows how unnecessary new records by Damon Albarn or Manic Street Preachers actually are. Inevitably, there are the first stirrings of copycat bands wearing their Northern roots on their sleeves (Milburn, Little Man Tate) but displaying half the verve the Monkeys do.

On an MTV showcase at the start of their career, Alex Turner declared “Don’t believe the hype.” Well, this time, believe it, because when you justify it with the panache Favourite Worst Nightmare shows, there’s nothing Arctic Monkeys can’t achieve.
www.arcticmonkeys.com
www.myspace.com/arcticmonkeys

Chris Stanley

 
 

Underground Railroad - Twisted Trees (One Little Indian) 

There’s never been a better time to be on an independent label. Being a bunch of scruffy urchins with an ear for a tune can pay dividends in the British charts, and any musician with half a brain and about eight fingers stands a chance of making a few bob without too much effort.

Of course, if you’ve got none of these things you’d be better off becoming a critic, and even a cursory listen tells you Underground Railroad should dust down their typewriters. But if they write articles as well as they write music, even William Burroughs would decry them as unintelligible rubbish.

There are no good points to their debut, Twisted Trees. Essentially ten tracks of discordant noise, all with self-consciously ironic titles like ‘Hollywood Whore’ and ‘Saddie,’ Underground Railroad have tried to copy Kurt Cobain’s freak-show of characters from Bleach and give it a nightmarish urban twist.

But the problem with art-noise is that it only exists in a particular moment, and it’s usually a jamming session. It may sound good with the speakers turned to eleven, but nobody seriously thinks you should release that kind of trash. You can’t imagine One Little Indian actually said “Well, we’re completely satisfied this will be a hit. Stick a label on it and ship it out.” Even Lou Reed, the man who recorded the horrific Metal Machine Music, would think this lot were ripping the proverbial.

There really is nothing to suggest you should buy this, unless you get a free gold bar with every copy. They’re probably very intense live, but don’t be fooled. Twisted Trees is a terrible record. It’s like being kidnapped in the dead of night, imprisoned in a dank well and being forced to listen to Sepultura’s greatest hits, only to find out your captors were a group of spotty teens you could easily overpower. Pitiful.
www.myspace.com/urailroad

Chris Stanley

 
 

The Kamikaze Hearts - Oneida Road (Tangled Up Recordings) 

There have never been many albums celebrating the ground we Brits walk upon. ‘Jerusalem’ aside, this green and not altogether unpleasant isle is always seen as just a place to live. Nobody gets much mileage out of saying how great housing estates are, unless you’re The Streets trying to “keep it real.” Even folk music tends to celebrate inventors of the seed drill and hanging judges more than “Merrie Olde England.”

Maybe that’s the difference between us and Americans. They tend to see everything in widescreen – it’s a cinematic country, with its wide open spaces and dominating skylines. The Kamikaze Hearts have succeeded in crafting an album, three years in the making, of sumptuous beauty and real heart. They originate from the farmlands of New York State, around the Woodstock area. That coming together of folk music and hippydom obviously runs in the water around those parts. Oneida Road is heavy on the mandolin lines – it’s like Nick Drake singing REM’s Out of Time, which to fans of folk-pop sounds like a match made in heaven.

But though that’s lovely, Brits don’t really ‘get’ alt-county music. We don’t drive cross-country with the top down. Nobody gets excited when they’re off to see Granddaddy. However serene tracks like ‘Defender’ or ‘Wolfert’s Roost’ are, they’re background noise tailor-made for a city centre Starbucks. The Kamikaze Hearts are very far from sucking, but ultimately, releasing this album in Britain is about as pointless as a kick in the nuts.
www.kamikazehearts.com
www.myspace.com/kamikazehearts  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Guster - Ganging Up On The Sun (Ryko/Reprise) 

Do they mean the newspaper? That would be nice and hilarious. Amazingly, this is Guster’s fifth studio album, and even more amazingly, I have never heard of them before this landmark release. The Boston-based four-piece do an average line in trippy acoustic rock, and their music is destined for soundtracks to coming-of-age indie flicks.

Their songs are actually pretty good, taken on their own. The album kicks off well with the intriguing ‘Lightning Rod’ and they have nice melodies. You could do a lot worse than check out forthcoming single ‘One Man Wrecking Machine,’ which is inexplicably released after the album. For their promotion, I’ll offer them a rent-a-quote to get them on their way: “Like the Beach Boys after a thunderstorm…Guster are on the right side of alternative American college rock.”

Now that’s out of the way, I can honestly say that Guster aren’t going to break many markets with this album. It’s just too so-so and forgettable to get excited about. There are better bands you can extend your overdraft for, and you’ll only like this if you’re into Dave Matthews Band or Counting Crows. Their marketing compares their mission to the Rolling Stones and CSNY. No offence lads, but at the height of their success those bands were more concerned with nodding out on class A narcotics than nodding along to gentle acoustics. Not a great record, by any stretch of the imagination.
www.guster.com 

Chris Stanley

 
 

The Random - Do It Like You Mean It (Nede Records) 

Do what? Play chicken in a basket overblown rock, full of Embrace-style pretentiousness? Step on your effects plate so you too can sound like The Edge or Three Colours Red when they went rubbish and chart-friendly? Can you answer me that? Can you? Can you?!

London four-piece The Random (God, what a terrible name) would like you to join their quest for chart mediocrity by buying their debut album and humming along to their choruses. They’re not the greatest band in the world, and to their credit they never say that they are, and their music is inoffensive in the sense that you’ll never crash your car shouting along to their tunes on the motorway. The fact that you’re unlikely to buy Do It Like You Mean It is neither here nor there.

On the other hand, if you are easily offended by plodding, shimmering major chords and songs about going out and being a “face” on the “scene” then The Random’s LP is not for you. There are a lot worse things they could have made out of plastic instead of this CD, like the small switches inside thermonuclear devices, but they could have also not bothered and saved their energy. There should be a tax on labels producing mediocrity like this.

In the end, The Random have got thousands of MySpace friends who purport to love their music, and love the fact they go on about being wasted in London on every track. They love lyrics that read “When I see you standing there you know I’d like to know your name/ But I kind of got the feeling that you might be on the game.” (‘Ba Ba Song’). But I don’t, and if you’re anything like me you won’t either.
www.therandommusic.com
www.myspace.com/therandomrocks 

Chris Stanley

 

Matthew Herbert - Score (!K7)

Following in the footsteps of Moby as a composer, DJ and producer turned music score writer, Matthew Herbert has released seventeen of his tracks used in film scores. However this differs massively from Moby's 'I Like to Score' in a number of fundamental ways.

Firstly there is the fact that most tracks on Moby's album came from a different film. Naturally part of the skill of a score composer is to interpret the style, atmosphere and mood of the film they are scoring. 'Score' by comparison features a number of songs in clumps from the same film and as such, naturally tends towards a certain style for that film. For instance, there are three tracks each from 'Vida Y Color', 'Le Defi' and 'The Intended'.

Secondly there is the question whether film score music naturally transfers over to the different genre of being released as an album. Some work well, Pulp Fiction springs to mind though this conceived more as a compilation of classic tracks rather than original scores. The original John Williams Star Wars sound track stood up in it's own right and still has an influence today as can be seen from Amp Fiddler's recent collaboration with Corinne Bailey Rae and their take on the Mos Eisley Cantina bar theme. And back to Moby. 'I Like to Score' which was a fine work from the upbeat techno of the 'James Bond Theme', the rave scene 'Ah-Ah' right towards the more orchestral compositions of 'Novio', 'First Cool Hive' and 'God Moving Over the Face of the Water'.

On this basis 'Score' would probably come up a distant second place. There is little doubt that the arrangements are extremely polished and Herbert enjoys playing with Latina rhythms. The musicianship is of a high quality and as sound track music this would score (forgive the pun) highly. But I find it difficult to get excited by any of these tracks - they form aural wall paper, which, after all, is exactly what they are. As such I could not recommend buying this as a musical treat but that should certainly not detract from Herbert's skills as a composer and arranger.

SB

 

Various - Ed Banger Vol. 2 (Because) 

Ed Banger records is a mix of electro, funk and dance all made into one new genre of music by the eleven Parisian band members. This promo copy makes a real impact from the usual myriad of music appearing on the scene at the moment, however, despite the positive sounds from the album, I doubt that these tracks will make a vast impact on the general club goers here. Although there is an eclectic mix of sounds, there is something lacking in the way the album is produced, it is more suited to late night radio dance.

Although, there are tracks that show promise to become electro dance hits – such as Mr Flash’s “Disco Dynamite”, but rather than be a general hit with the public, I think this album is aimed more towards the fans of the electro genre. With this in mind, I’m sure it will spread in the underground scene and broaden their fan base. They have attempted and managed to create an album where each track is individual and creative by using the usual electro beats and typical sounds, which is impressive.
www.edbangerrecords.com

Lid

 

Forget Cassettes - Salt (Tangled up! Recordings) 

Formed in Nashville as a two-piece band consisting of Beth Cameron and Doni Schroader, Forget Cassettes integrate the typically aggressive yet melodic sounds of recent rock bands, yet they also manage to introduce variety and individuality into their music too. This occurs rarely in modern music, so it should be something to celebrate. However, some of the more “melodic” sounding tracks entice you to switch to the next one…and the next, etc. The more intense sounds they make are in the tracks worth listening to, track two is one of these, with the percussion intro and simple block chords.

Overall, the music is emotional, angsty, different, but not necessarily interesting or catchy, which, I suppose, is the main element for making popular music and a successful band. On a happier note, not all of the tracks are uninteresting. Track three uses more interesting melodies and rhythms compared to the other tracks, but to put it plainly, not a lot is to be expected of this album.

Lid

 

Dinosaur Jr – “Beyond” 

Some critics would have you believe that this, the first Dino release from the original line-up in almost twenty years, belongs right up there with 80s classics You’re Living All Over Me and Bug. Others say the spark that made those records so influential has long since been snuffed out. The truth lies somewhere in-between. 

One thing’s for sure, the intervening careers of J and Lou are etched into every groove. Gone are the sloppy solos and layers of fuzz; Mascis’s songs are now leaner and slicker, more akin to his output as J Mascis & The Fog, while Barlow’s “Back To Your Heart” sounds like something from the last Sebadoh album, only much heavier. Lou’s other contribution, “Lightning Bolt”, sounds like the truest example of a collaborative effort and a promising signpost to future releases (should they occur). 

Mascis proves himself to be no slouch either and, whilst perhaps no longer capable of conjuring up an anthem on a par with “Freak Scene” or “The Wagon”, still delivers a sharp opening volley with “Almost Ready”. “Crumble”, one of his sweetest rockers in a while, is also deserving of a mention. Ironically for someone who’s spent the better part of two decades with one foot hovering over a distortion pedal, it’s lighter, acoustic-based numbers like “We’re Not Alone” and “I Got Lost” that are the most rewarding. 

Alas, “Beyond” still falls foul of the curse of latter-day Dino, the middle of the album padded out with the sort of filler J can knock out in his sleep and most of the lyrics perfunctory at best. Still, it puts the spotlight back on a band that missed their moment in the sun the first time round, and for that alone its existence is more than justified.

Will Columbine

 

Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid – “Tongues” 

With two previous collaborations so self-indulgent that they sent our own Mr Blanchard scurrying under his duvet for cover, “Tongues” finds Hebden and his jazz mentor/chum refining their work into something a bit more palatable. In fact, it’s a surprisingly low-key affair with Reid, in a supporting role, laying down the most basic of beats whilst the electronica prodigy spazzes out with his box of tricks. 

“The Sun Never Sets” and “People Be Happy” are prime examples, but whilst the sound of a music box spewing out its innards or two pinball machines shagging might be some people’s idea of musical nirvana, I couldn’t help wish that Hebden would cool it with the freaky noises and give Reid more space to work with. At best, such as on the rather pleasant “Our Time”, they evoke a Four Tet record without all the cool beats Hebden pilfers from old jazz records. Still, this is all very much a work-in-progress that we’re being given the privilege to hear so, you never know…things might improve still further.

Will Columbine

 

Mark Ronson – “Version” 

If you were going to mastermind a covers record, wouldn’t your first priority be to make sure the source material was up to scratch? Having had a creative hand in Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”, Ronson proves he has some taste yet his choice of tracks here is not only slightly baffling but downright unworthy of remoulding in a Motown style. Colplay with Stax horns doing the talking? Forgettable. The lead muppets from Maximo Park and Kasabian singing their own audio homages? Zero improvement. And would Morrissey approve of a soul version of “Stop Me”? Our survey said…”UH UH”! 

Getting Winehouse to belt out The Zuton’s “Valerie” (talent + good tune = result! Not a difficult sum.) is the only smart choice in an otherwise sorry state of affairs. I could salute the man’s decision to bury Robbie Williams waaaaay down in the mix where he belongs on “The Only One I Know”, but any goodwill incurred is immediately cancelled out by Lily Allen’s shit-awful turn on “I Predict A Riot”, in which she attempts to divert the listener from her sheer lack of singing ability by trying to sound as Cocker-nee as possible: “OH MA GAWD AH CAARN’T BELIEVE IT!”…yeah, well you’re not the only one. In all seriousness, they should put a warning sticker on this piece of crap.

Will Columbine

 

Robyn – “Robyn” 

You may remember Robyn hanging out in the top twenty with a couple of R ‘n’ B/pop numbers during the mid nineties. Well, forget all that because now she’s working to reinvent herself as the Swedish Gwen Stefani. Hip hop is where it’s all at in Robyn’s world, even down to the not very amusing skit that precedes the frankly bonkers “Konichiwa Bitches”. I doubt that even Phil Spector’s hairdresser could out-random it, although Robyn herself has a go during “Cobrastyle” (chorus: “Our style is the bom-diddy-bom-de-dang-de-dang-tikki-tikki!”). Whatever next? 

Yet just when things were getting interesting, Robyn seems to abandon this angle along with any semblance of feistiness, and each song ends up being more conventional than the last. “Handle Me” retains the hip-hop flava before suddenly unleashing a chorus straight out of the Linda Perry book of instant radio play, while “Who’s That Girl” sounds it came straight off a Cyndi Lauper album. “Should Have Known” and “Anytime You Like”, meanwhile, had me fooled into thinking someone had spliced in a couple of Janet Jackson off-cuts for a laugh. Still unable to shake off her past, there’s no question that Robyn has personality but the quest for an identity of her own remains ongoing.
www.robyn.com

Watch Robyn play 'With Every Heartbeat' Live at Metro

Will Columbine

 

Champion - ‘Different Directions: The Last Show’ CD/DVD (Bridge 9) 

“I want to thank my entire family for being here tonight, and coming to see us play. A lot of kids here tonight are straightedge, and even the ones who aren’t don’t really do a whole lot of drugs or alcohol and my Dad asked me ‘what are all these kids doing? Stagedives, jumping around, hurting themselves - what are they on?’ And I said ‘You know what, there’s a lot of kids out there, seventeen, eighteen years old, that do a lot more fucked up shit to their body then jumping off a stage. “
-Jim Hesketh, vocals 

Formed in 1999 when the Seattle music scene was all about aggressive, screaming metal, Champion quickly became one of the most influential hardcore bands of the last 10 years with their short, fast, positive straightedge hardcore. They were one of the bands that helped Bridge Nine Records gain it’s reputation, as well as being one of the few ‘alternative’ American bands to tour South Korea since...well..N*Sync. But after a demo and two albums, Champion have decided to call it quits. 

Different Directions is a live recording of Champion’s last show at El Corazon in their hometown of Seattle, accompanied by a DVD shot by High-Roller Studios who brought us such great sweaty rocknroll DVDs like Everytime I Die’s Shit Happens and Lamb Of God’s Killadelphia. Different Directions features live footage of the entire show as well as short interviews with band members and concert-goers alike, and all of it adding up to only 50 minutes. 

The show itself features a mix of songs from both albums ‘Promises Kept’ and ‘Time Slips Away’ and a couple of songs from the original demo, as well being shot on six different cameras at different angles, giving you a real feel of being there. There’s the usual straightedge speeches and shouts of ‘LET’S SEE A CIRCLE-PIT’ shortly before partway into the title track ‘Different Directions’ when an over-excited stagediver catches vocalist Jim Hesketh in the eye causing Hesketh to sing the rest of the song crouched on the floor with blood dripping off his face. But he gets right back up and sings the rest of the show with a swollen eye and a blood-stained hoody. It’s this that reminds you why Champion were so goddamned great.

The CD itself is like any live recording, sounding overall distorted and a bit dodgy, especially whenever a kid steals a microphone but face it, if you’re a Champion fan you’ve probably got Different Directions: The Last Show already, and if you have ANY interest in hardcore you should buy it.

Willa C

 
 

The Icicles – Arrivals and Departures (Micro Indie)

Unsurprisingly, it’s another rainy and windy somewhat miserable bank holiday Monday. And the Freeview box is on the blink, and that 2,000 word law essay really isn’t going to do itself.  But sod all that, because in my CD player is a shiny disc of sunshine and lightness! And believe me, I don’t use those words lightly. I personally challenge anyone to not find something to smile about on Arrivals and Departures.  

Here’s the recipe for the charming album. Mix together the vocal talents of the Tilly and the Wall girls and Jenny Lewis to create the perfect sugar coated girly vocals, add a generous portion of the brilliant instrument that is the glockenspiel (Gedge’s Song in particular) stir in a subtle but all important smattering of synths (Nights Like These), add in lyrics about the rain, football games and boys (obviously). Compress into CD format and serve. Very palatable.   

The Icicles are all about the clean wholesome fun, which quite frankly could do with a revival. So dig out your art and crafts stuff and while away the hours whilst being serenaded by The Icicles!
www.myspace.com/theicicles

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Forcefeed - ‘Stainless’ (Avalanche) 

Popular in their native Holland, Stainless make a good first impression with second album ‘Stainless’. But then you realize the melodic vocal sections sound more Staind than Soulfly, and the bollock-grabbing riffery sounds great at first, but after it’s been repeated it what seem every single song the shine wears off. Like clogs, maybe some Dutch exports Holland should keep to themselves.

Willa C

 
 

Momo – Unharmed (Instant Attraction Records)

Momo is in fact a man named Toni Castells, and apart from some help from some guest vocalists, he made this album himself. The guest vocalists themselves are five female singers from a variety of musical backgrounds. Although they all perform well, they do so within in comfort of the conventions of their own genre, and fail to bring anything new to their tracks. 

Like its guests, Unharmed encapsulates many different genres, from the ambient chill out acoustic sounds of Atomic, to the more indie influenced electric guitar riffs of The Sound. 

However the downside to this is that as a whole, the album doesn’t hold together well, sometimes sounding like a showcase for the vocalists rather than a display of Castell’s work.  

The one saving grace of the album is the final track, Rescue Me. Bizarrely the vocals are sung by Roberta Howett, who first came to light in X-Factor. Perhaps even more bizarrely though, these vocals are sung with more feeling than any other track on the album, and Rescue Me is a poignant but uplifting creation.  

For a chill out album Unharmed ticks all the right boxes- slow tempos, soaring string synths, haunting vocals. Sadly it doesn’t go much further than that, and the listener is left feeling like Momo haven’t lived up to their full potential.
www.myspace.com/tonicastells

Catriona Boyle

 
 

RSJ - ‘Gain To Nothing’ (Hangman’s Joke)

In the years following RSJ’s first full-length ‘Reflections In B Minor’, the noise metal band from Middlesbrough has played live with the likes of Soilwork, Raging Speedhorn and Orange Goblin. The big names don’t stop there, their new album ‘Gain To Nothing’ featuring a remix by Akercocke’s Matt Wilcock, as well as ten new tracks.

‘Gain To Nothing’ is close, but no cigar. The music is strong and heavy enough to break a few bones, but the vocals are muffled and monotonous. But hey, you wouldn’t be able to hear fuck all live anyway so if you’re in it for the head banging then give it a go. Just don’t expect any poignant lyrics to get tattooed on your ass.

Willa C

 

DJ Mehdi – Lucky Boy (Ed Banger) 

Apparently this guy is French. The fact that the few tracks on Lucky Boy that feature vocals are sung in English should surely be considered a good thing if he’s going for an English audience, because we all know how the English feel about understanding other languages. Or not understanding them, as the case may be. In hindsight though, such motivating and witty lyrics such as “are you gonna check for id” and “you got to give it up or leave, leave it alone” may have sounded better in French.  

I’ll let you into a little secret…I really don’t have much time for this sort of thing. However, occasionally, when done properly, I can appreciate the odd bit of dance music, i.e. the big mainstream favourites, Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim etc. But how anyone could listen to the same noises over and over again for four plus minutes at a time, with no verse, chorus, or anything else really happening is beyond me. Perhaps I’m missing the point entirely, but surely even dancing to this stuff would become boring after a while.  

There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new clever, or exciting happened on this album but it does sound well produced, slick, and well up with its contemporaries. 

At sixteen tracks though I suspect that only the hardcore will be able to stomach it.
www.myspace.com/djmehdi

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Nate James – Kingdom Falls (Frofunk)

The English equivalent to John Legend (but probably far more humble and far less ego-tastic than his American counterpart) returns with his second album, featuring many a fine tune. 

Kingdom Falls combines elements of funk (SMF), urban sounds (Wonderland) and soul (Therapy) creating a new sound with definite nods to older genres (check out the 80s style sax on LA Dreamin’). 

Nate’s voice is as smooth as a very smooth thing and his song writing allows him to show off his extensive vocal range. Although rather lengthy at 15 tracks, the album hops and skips from genre to genre and mood to mood, making it an interesting listen throughout. 

The time, devotion and TLC put into Kingdom Falls is clear- every track is well thought out and tweaked to perfection, but without sounding over produced.  

Perhaps if Nate James changes his last name to ‘hero’ or ‘star’ then he too can achieve success on the scale of Mr Legend, which Nate fully deserves.
www.myspace.com/thenatejames

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Stillman – People Like A Happy Ending (TRL Music)

’s nice to hear an album with a bit of sincerity and integrity, and essentially maturity. It seems Stillman, or Chaz Craik, has had quite the cultured life. A classical guitarist, producer, sound engineer and a friend of Banksy, Craik must have one or two interesting experiences to draw upon when writing his songs.  

People Like A Happy Ending sounds like it was made by a band, but in fact the entire thing was written and performed by Craik himself.  

The title track is a mixture of soft sweeping vocals and gentle acoustic guitar punctuated by an angry chorus driven by electric guitar and vitriolic singing.  

The Thaw and Jack-in-a-Box echo today’s acoustic singer/songerwriters such as Get Cape and Dashboard Confessional, proving Craik is clearly aware of the scene he will undoubtedly be put into. However Patience and In The Margin show obvious grunge influences, so perhaps pigeon holing him will be more difficult than first anticipated.    

People Like A Happy Ending is a collection of songs encompassing many years of music history. Stillman’s wide range of influences has helped him create an album with depth that is rarely seen in his contemporaries. A happy ending indeed.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Fairport Convention – Old New Borrowed Blue (Talking Elephant)

New Borrowed Blue first saw the light of day in January 1996. It's mainly a live recording made on December 30 1995 at the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury, augmented by some studio tracks. With 16 tracks, running to just over 71 minutes, there's something for everyone here - everyone who likes Fairport Convention at any rate.

For the uninitiated, and I guess a fair percentage of the Tasty's Clientele might just fall into that category, Fairport played their first gig in May 1967, following the example set by Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival by belting out traditional folk tunes on electric guitars (and a variety of other traditional instruments 'wired for sound'). They were one of the founder members of the British Folk-Rock movement. Since then they have undergone more line-up changes than anyone could count, but in 2007 they are still on the road, and still selling out venues.

But enough of the ancient history - what of the CD and why review it 11 years after its original release? Well the why now? is easy - shortly after its original release it was sold on to an obscure label who shelved it so it hasn't been available since 1997, and now it is!

As the title suggests there is a good mix of traditional songs, Fairport's own compositions, and some borrowed from contemporaries like James Taylor, Ralph McTell and Loudon Wainwright III.  The line-up at this particular time numbered just four, and the band was actually performing as Fairport Acoustic Convention - an earlier version of 'unplugged', with no drums and lots of interesting stringed instruments including bouzar and mandocello (Google them if you want to know what they are!). Vocals are mainly Simon Nicol (one of the original line-up from 1967), and they are a delight throughout. There are a few instrumental tracks thrown in for good measure giving Ric Sanders the opportunity to demonstrate some demon fiddling.

A treat for me is that one of my all time favourites "Lalla Rookh" is included in the 'new' section on the CD, and is brilliantly executed featuring some tight harmonies (not too common when you have four blokes singing together). In the ‘borrowed’ section James Taylor's Frozen Man is excellent, and a bit more country sounding than most Fairport Numbers. Sadly Loudon Wainwright's Swimming Song does not really measure up to Loudon's own renditions - especially live, but as a big LW III fan I'm always happy to see others performing his stuff.

Finally the ‘old’ stuff - Matty Groves is excellent as ever. This is one of Fairport's best traditional songs - first appearing on Liege and Lief, and played at every Fairport gig I've been to. Widow of Westmorland's Daughter is a great reminder of what traditional folk is all about - a tale of dastardly deeds and infidelity set to a jaunty tune.

And as for the ‘blue’ section- look no further than the album cover!

All in all a great CD for the collection whether you're a new convert, or a lifelong fan who didn't manage to buy it when it came out the first time.

John Boyle

 

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (Fatcat)

Epic is an over-used expression when describing music but in this case it seems like little else will do it justice. While being based in a swirling white noise shoe gaze style much loved of bands in the early nineties, 'Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters' effortlessly embraces aspects of post rock and is heavily imbued with folk leanings. This is not all harmoniums and ukuleles but folk in the true story-telling sense - an experience based narrative mainly tinged with bitterness, hurt and rejection.

There's been some talk of the use of local accents in tasty in recent months, not always in a complimentary way. James Graham's (could there be a more Scottish name?) vocals are wrapped in a rich Caledonian passion that firmly roots The Twilight Sad in their folk heritage while avoiding the commonly used cliches of regional accents hammed up merely for effect.

There are comparisons with Sheffield shoe-gazers Ormondroyd, parts of 'Fourteen Autumns...' wells up like well trodden Mogwai ground and sometimes there are elements of melancholic pop like in opening track 'Cold Days from the Birdhouse'. But overall is the impression that The Twilight Sad give nothing away easily - every chord is placed specifically, every swirling shimmering guitar outro is deliberately timed, there is no fat to trim. Highly accomplished and highly recommended.
www.myspace.com/thetwilightsad

SB

 
 

Melodium – “Music for Invisible People” 

Frenchman Laurent Girard is a classically trained pianist who, five years ago, began his acquaintance with electronic music via the purchase of a synthesizer. “Music for Invisible People” is his 2nd album and, for the most part, is a reasonably pleasant meander along pathways that fans of Four Tet will be well acquainted with. Less successful are the moments in which Girard decides to indulge in his own dreary brand of vocalisation. It seems as though his intention was to use it as another layer of instrumentation, much as Thom Yorke did on latter-day Radiohead albums, but more often that not it simply detracts from one’s enjoyment of the music. Depression can be entertaining subject matter if delivered with passion or humour but that is sadly not the case here.
www.melodiumbox.free.fr

Will Columbine

 
 

Manic Street Preachers - Away The Tigers (Sony Music) 

The Manics are back and this time they’re punky! Damn, it’s like listening to the sound of the King’s Road thirty years ago! You want the truth? You want to know if it was worth waiting for their comeback album? Well, behind all the hype, the anticipation on message boards, and the ‘interesting’ duets, the answer is sort of.

Let’s get one thing out of the way as soon as possible – anyone expecting a cross between Generation Terrorists and The Holy Bible will be disappointed. The calculated backward ‘r’s on the packaging and provocative song titles like ‘Imperial Bodybags’ may hark back to the glitter-covered glory days of 1991-94 (i.e. when they earned sod-all), but Send Away The Tigers is a degraded photocopy of those times and nothing more.

Lead singles ‘Underdogs’ and ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ find themselves out of place on what is an otherwise solid collection. In the context of the album and of the age of the band, ‘Underdogs’ is an embarrassing lyric. You can imagine Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire sneering at a Suede-esque lyric like “People like you need to fuck people like me.” Maybe something for the old Nicky Wire to shout, but not the one with a wife and kid.

‘Your Love Alone…’ satisfies radio listeners but shows up another Manics failing, namely the choice of female collaborator. They’ve never managed to get it right; Traci Lords bravely fought her way through ‘Little Baby Nothing,’ Sophie Ellis-Bextor sneered her way through ‘Black Holes For The Young’ and now The Cardigans’ Nina Persson tries to rock the mike alongside JDB. Sorry, she simply hasn’t got a powerful enough voice. The Manics have always had a soft spot for the doll-like waif but next time, go with Sheryl Crow and not Kate Moss, please.

It is a shame, because SATT is a more satisfying beast overall than 2004’s limp Lifeblood. Ever since Nicky Wire was stung by the muted critical response to This Is My Truth, he’s wary of overblown music and lyrics. The reaction falls between two stools; he’s too domesticated to be the spokesman for the marginalised, and not caustic enough when he needs to be. Where he used to talk about Monroe and Eugene Terre Blanche, he now discusses Jack Lemmon and Tony Hancock.

Ironically, it’s the more mature tracks on this LP that stand out. ‘Indian Summer,’ for example, is musically exquisite, with ‘Autumnsong’ not far behind. Given the chance to let fly, JDB lets his voice ring out, and his guitar playing is still outstanding after all this time. But despite the promises of a return to their punk roots, he finds himself having to tread a line between too many solos and not enough power chords. Having to satisfy casual fans as well as rabid removes any sting they once possessed, and the Manics veer ever closer to the point where they no longer have a valid reason to continue.

But the reason why it may be worth the wait is that the Manics are still a fearsome live proposition, and a lot of the time album tracks have been given new life by their electrifying performances. Send Away The Tigers may be the blueprint of a spectacular show, and if that’s the case then maybe they should consider a live version. If they leave it as it is, Send Away The Tigers will remain flatter than a Dover sole under Beth Ditto’s arse.
www.manics.co.uk
www.myspace.com/manics  

Chris Stanley

 
 

The Distants – “Broken Gold” 

For the most part, these LA-based rockers sound like Debbie Harry got pissed off with all that pop rubbish and decided to take Ian Astbury’s job in The Cult. There are exceptions: on “Vertigo”, singer Guinevere pulls off a throaty roar Courtney Love would be proud of, whilst “Falling Apart” is equal parts Cranberries and Lush. They also claim to be influenced by MBV and Sonic Youth, although you’d hard pressed to find anything near as interesting. For The Distants it’s the typical scenario of a band that’s more than capable but in no way exceptional, and when a cover version of “She Sells Sanctuary” is the only memorable thing on your album then that’s most definitely cause for concern in my book.
www.thedistants.net

Will Columbine

 
 

Southern Fried and Tested - Mixed by Mighty Dubkatz and Caged Baby – (Southern Fried) 

The Mighty Dub Katz, not a household name, but one I remember fondly from my adolescence. Standing there, in Middlesbrough’s only proper record shop, slightly nervous, I remember asking the bloke behind the counter to play Just Another Groove for me, in front of older, cooler, people, who were like, proper DJ’s. I bought it, my first ever 12” single. I didn’t even have decks back then, but my record collection had begun. 

That was 12 years ago, the record shop closed down, I left my hometown and one half of the Mighty Dub Katz became a revolutionary down on the South Coast, in Europe and beyond. 

I’m talking Norman Cook of course, he of the pseudonym, the big beat, the boutique and the bass in the Housemartins.   

The Mighty Dub Katz sound was a pre-cursor to big-beat. It was definitely house music, but there was more going on. It felt a bit cheaper, dirtier and British. Off-key arrangements, robust brass sections and clacking beats accompanied the clipped down vocal samples. 

This collection is designed to highlight the past sounds and future direction of the Southern Fried label.  It manages to showcase past talents admirably, with retro rave sounds permeating through Cyclone’s “Lord of the Land”, the Bassbin Twins’ “Out of Hand” and of course the Mighty Dub Katz themselves. But, a lack of quality control is the undoing of the album.  

Tracks like “Show Me Your Monkey” by Percy Filth, will only appeal to those who are the right side of seventeen and the wrong side of a meaty skunk bong.  It hammers home why the big-beat sound ran out of steam so rapidly once the novelty wore off. 

The same problem presents itself on the second CD, mixed by labelmate Caged Baby, there’s some great moments, “Hello There” by the man himself is one. An Erasure-esque slice of brilliantly judged pop, it changes the pace quite brilliantly. Unfortunately we’re immediately treated to another very similar track by the same artist, some immature stylings from Heavy Rock and then a couple of re-mixes of records that featured earlier in the mix. 

If, Norman Cook or Caged Baby were to turn up to your house party and play either of these sets, you’d be ecstatic.  But as a studio mix the quality of the tracks, mixing and more importantly the whole direction both sets just isn’t up the mark.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Big Strides – Cry It All Out (Tall Order) 

I hate it when I hear music and hear influences. They jump out at me and whether I’m right or not they stick. Here? Pavement and Cake sprang immediately to mind. So at least they’re good bands, and the song itself is pretty cool, but still. I’m also a little worried they might be being a bit wilfully laconic- if that’s actually possible. I think they may hope to impress us with how clever and alternative they are. 

Getting a nice lyric or inventive use of guitar is great; please don’t reuse it all the time though.  Thanks. 

‘Let’s Get Nice’ is fun and catchy enough, but it, like all the songs, has enough lazy rhymes and obvious choices to detract from the good things going on. The songs do zip along and I’m not getting bored listening to it. But there isn’t a great deal keeping me engaged. They’re sounding more and more like Cake too. It’s getting beyond influence really. 

As the songs go on the jazziness starts to grate and repeat. I’m regretting writing this review while listening because seven songs in I am getting bored and some songs would normally be skipped by now if I was just listening to the album for reasons other than reviewing. 

I hoped that the influences and good ideas that have been spread around so far would at some point meet and put at least one completely fun or really good song on this album. As it is all the songs have a charm but they also have very obvious influences. The nearest they get is ‘The Joys of Spring’ but even that is a Pavement song really.  

I’m conflicted. I really like Pavement and Cake, I’d like to like this band but it’s never quite as good as the bands I’m constantly reminded of when I listen to them. I’d like to enjoy this album. I tried but the influences shine through too brightly and I get that they’re clever and cool and talented, but it’s not quite ever the whole thing. The songs, when they’re at their best, get close to being really good – ‘Smiling’ is pretty cool but it rolls along like ‘Sexxlaws’. When they’re at their worst (which is still pretty good) they sound a little too nu-jazz for everybody’s liking. No one likes that kind of jazz. (Please!) ‘What’s Wrong With Lucy?” is among the best of the bunch. That’s because it’s just a song and is plain and without conceit or affectation. That makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest of the album. 

A whole album later and the lyrics lose some of their appeal and seem deliberately idiosyncratic. They’re never terrible, they’re quite good. They’re always quite good. I bet it is fun live though. That isn’t enough.

Christopher Carney

 
 

Sharp Practise – Radio City – (Rising) 

Oh god, where to begin.  I feel like I’ve been through a mincer. I really tried, honestly, to give Sharp Practise a proper listen, but I could never get more than a minute into each song without flicking it forward, or just pressing stop and going for a lie down. 

They’re from Australia, (do they even spell practice with an ‘s’ in Australia?) and according to the promotional material, they will appeal to fans of The Counting Crows (sic). 

Track one starts inoffensively enough, but the chorus is limp and it rounds off with a massive, overblown, hilarious ending. They sound like Counting Crows in the sense that the pace is plodding, the guitars are lazy, and a strained voice crackles with emotion, dominating the sound. 

Track two is where it fell apart for me.  Delivered with all the profound sincerity of General De Gaulle’s call to arms during the nazi occupation of France, are the lyrics; “you stood between the flame and the truth / you said tonight is all I offer / liar liar, your pants are fire / why don’t you look up ‘commitment’..” 

It’s cringeworthy cack-babble of the highest order, and the album never recovers. 

I hate everything about it, from the Meatloaf style dad-riffing and piss-poor-warbling of Bed of Rhythm to the six minute mixed-metaphorathon of How Do You Take It? 

One other thing, every track has a description of the ‘inspiration’ or ‘direction’ of the song written on the sleeve under the titles.  My favourite; “being trapped by an old bloke who wanted someone to sound off at inspired this”.  The feeling of being trapped by an old bloke sounding off really comes through, not just on Family of Nations, but the entire album. 

So if you see Sharp Practise, bedecked in a flat cap and sipping half a mild in a pub near you, avoid at all costs!

Ian Anderson

 
 

Born a Lion - John Captain 

They’re from Portugal. Not from the Delta, not from Texas, not from Chicago, not from the Californian Desert. They aren’t from anywhere in America, let alone from anywhere their (obvious) influences hail from. Just so you know. There, I’ve probably ruined it for you. 

Well I shouldn’t have. Bands have been using American-born sounds and styles since time immemorial. Black Sabbath did it, The Beatles did it and tons of bands (not just English ones) have done it and will continue to do it. What matters is one thing: how good are the songs? 

I know their lead singer loves Mark Lanegan. He’s listened to some Johnny Cash too. I know this from listening to him sing and to his songs. I love Mark Lanegan. ‘Psycho’ suggests he may have a soft spot for Axl too. That they sound like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age doesn’t hurt anybody (least of all me). The songs all whiz around pretty well, starting with the spoken story of ‘John Captain’ and speeding through the gears to the penultimate track ‘Blow-out’ (after which they have a slow song. It’s good too, don’t worry).  

This whole album was one of the easiest things to listen to all the way through that I have encountered recently. I mean this in the best possible way. I didn’t ignore it; I didn’t let it wash over me. I saw it screaming by and wanted to get alongside it.  Songs pound, riff, fizz and scream. These guys really rock. They took the things that made the songs they love the songs they love and turned out their own songs. These songs sound killer.  That’s all you need to know.  

I was worried about whether or not singing in a style not your own and singing in a different voice would make you sound like a phoney. I thought about it for a while and decided that this will not always be the case. Like thousands of people, listening to music in their rooms and finally finding someone who sounds like them, or finding a way to escape the things around them that all sound the same, Born a Lion found something that they needed and shared it. Who cares that they are Portuguese and sound like Americans?  If they sounded like posers or that they are ashamed of where they came from, then plenty of people would care. People who like stoner-blues will like this a lot. It does occur to me that I’d like to hear them play this music and sing in their own accents, or even in their own language (though that’s a massive risk). It is a shame that they don’t do this because I’d like them to play the dirty blues they cite in their bio without the lead singer sounding American. As it is, they’re can’t really be blamed for playing it safer than it might be. They’re still good. They’re a good band with good songs. Ruination averted.
www.MySpace.com/bornalionband 

Christopher Carney

 
 

Lydia – Gloria Can’t Dance (NZW) 

All five of the group grew up “listening to bands like Mötley Crüe, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Poison.” It says it in their PR material. Lydia is, it seems, what happens when some old-school rockers decide to ditch their hard-rock and go in a new direction.  

Lydia will get comparisons to the Cardigans – not only because they write pop/rock tunes that get grand for the chorus, but also because there’s a lot of laziness going around and they’re from Sweden too. They are quite similar, musically though - the songs always aim for anthemic but there’s something missing. The songs are often a little too long. ‘Personal Note’ is the best example, though it does have a very promising break down, but it doesn’t lead anywhere and that is a disappointment. Maybe it just feels long and all the songs on this album are ultimately disappointing. Promise and good ideas are there but the predilection to stick to uniform song structures (and always get BIG for the chorus) means that nothing really grabs, excites or engages. It all has the potential to sound great in an arena, which I think might be what they are aiming for. I think it would still be a little dull. Well played, well sung, at least trying to be intelligent, but dull and a little formulaic all the same. That is a shame.

Christopher Carney

 
 

Limbeck - ‘Limbeck’ (Doghouse)

‘Limbeck’ is the third album of the band of the same name, Limbeck. One of Doghouse’s Records best kept secrets, Limbeck play straight-up country-tinged-pop-rock. The band are a group of unshaved young guys in plaid shirts who sing songs about driving across states to play a show, then trying to make it back in time to go to work. Fact about the Limbeck tour van: they appeared in one of the very first iMac commercials as the ‘Garage Monkeys’ playing a song from their first EP. The band’s royalties from the ad went towards a tour van, the same one they use today and write songs about. 

Limbeck have always released happy-go-lucky albums about Midwest America. Their first full-length album ‘Hi, Everything’s Great’ was so great because they were simple, catchy songs: without effects, distortion, fancy layering. Their second album ‘Let Me Come Home’ was still a good album, but maybe the weakest of their releases as they struggles to experiment with different instruments and effects while trying to keep the same old sensibilities. With the new self-titled record they seemed to have found their niche with a bigger and fuller sound, more country than ever but with an old Get Up Kids vibe to keep you bouncing in your seat. For lovers of Kerouac, Rollin Rock beer, and road trips, here is a CD that should definitely be in the glove box for your summer.

Willa C

 
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Chairman of the Board: Surf Soundtracks ’64 to ’74 (Harmless) 

Not an artist as such, more a state of mind. Surely what the stoner turtles from Disney’s Finding Nemo have on their iPods, Chairman of the Board collates eighteen cuts from obscure surf movies and gets them released in time for summer. It’s cool, man, and that’s what it’s there for.

There are strong showings from artists you’ve probably never heard of, like Farm and G Wayne Thomas, and taken singly they’ve got outstanding musicianship and a real vibe about them. They suggest beaches and towering waves, for which the selection committee at Harmless Records can be justly proud.

But the real heart of the matter is who it’s aimed at. We all like ‘Miserlou’ off Pulp Fiction, and Dogtown and Z-Boys is a great documentary. But let’s face it, no-one’s going to sit down and listen to nearly twenty slices of surf and sun when the rain’s inevitably pelting down on your holidays. When Calvin Harris is booming from all the surf shacks in August, it makes this album redundant.

If you are into surf music, you’ll know all these tracks and probably won’t bother with this. It’s up to you; if you fancy trying something new you could do a lot worse, but don’t be surprised to find yourself feeling a bit stupid putting it on your ghetto blaster on the annual trip to Newquay.
www.harmlessrecordings.co.uk  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Pigeon Detectives – Wait For Me

Now, if you are a fan of the currently thriving scene of new indie bands then you’re probably already eagerly awaiting The Pigeon Detectives’ debut album “Wait For Me” which is released on 28th May. This album, it has to be said, is not full of mind-blowing originality, “Wait For Me” is very much in the same vain as many of the other bands out there; immediate comparisons are going to be drawn with The Kaiser Chiefs, simply because both groups are from Leeds, but musically they are quite different. However there are definite musical similarities with Franz Ferdinand in the second track “I Found Out” because of the thudding rhythm on both guitars and keyboards. There are also elements of The View’s tunes in there (obviously a large difference in accent though!) but the lyrics lack The View’s ingenuity and focus mainly on relationships and young romance.

The comparisons aside this is a very good album; it’s young, vibrant and bursting with energy. Lyrically the best track is probably “Take Her Back”, a quirky song about a seventeen-year-old friend dating a twenty-two year old woman, Matt’s vocals repeatedly ask, “Is that too much of a difference?”

The album kick-starts with the single “Romantic Type”, which recently hit the top twenty, and will soon have you dancing along. Three more lively tracks follow and have that annoying capability of getting into your head and really sticking there. The fifth track “Can’t Control Myself” is the first time the mood is brought down; the first minute is slow vocals over the gentle pluck and slide of guitars but then the drums kick in, the speed increases and they’re back rocking-out as they do best. It continues at full throttle until the end. Another highlight along the way is “I’m Not Sorry”, the next single and currently earning a lot of Radio 1 airplay.

Overall The Pigeon Detectives have pulled off a good debut with many strong points and only a few fillers. Their singles will deservedly do the rounds on the radio and TV for a few months and hopefully they can pull out some storming sets at this year’s festivals where their lively tunes are bound to be a great success.

Claire Drury

 
 

The Neutrinos - One Way Kiss (Wet Nurse Records) 

Hailing from the musical hotbed of, erm, Norwich, The Neutrinos trade heavily on the fact they’ve got a female lead singer. There’s nothing wrong with that, or course, although the music most female-led indie bands create tends to be of the belligerent and shouty kind. Sometimes it works (Hole, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and sometimes it doesn’t (Brassy). The Neutrinos, even this early in their career, are teetering on the brink of the latter.

Their music is not without its charms. The rhythm section is taut, and they do a nice line in low-slung bass, meaning there’s real menace underneath their tunes. Karen Reilly has a presence about her vocals, even if they are unspectacular. When they’re playful, The Neutrinos show promise (‘Donkeywork’ even rips off The Beach Boys).

But to be a band to truly get excited about, The Neutrinos need to leave behind the self-consciously dark themes and Hammer Horror imagery. Reilly fills up any gaps with arty screeching, and it doesn’t work. It makes the album forgettable and not a little tedious. One Way Kiss could have done with being an EP.

Still, the title of best Norwich based artists is there for The Neutrinos to take. Mind you, when your competition is Cathy Dennis, you don’t have to put in too much effort.
www.neutrinos.co.uk
www.myspace.com/theneutrinosinspace  

Chris Stanley

 

VON SÜDENFED - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino Records) 

You know what you’re going to get with German music, generally speaking. There’s something in the Teutonic soul that loves technology, blips and blobs, experimentation and free association. Either that, or they play industrial heavy generic rock going on about strange weather patterns.

Von Südenfed are two-thirds German and the remainder English, so there’s room for an injection of melody, something to make it chart-friendly and sensible. Unless you make a ridiculous choice of Englishman. In this case, Von Südenfed has gone for The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Oh God.

The Fall are an acquired taste. Smith tends to sound like a tramp shouting into his coat between sips of Brasso at the best of times, but how will he cope with adding the lyrical impetus to the electronica supplied by Mouse on Mars’ Andi Toma and Jan St Werner? By being as obtuse as possible, of course.

Tromatic Reflexxions, when you’re not out of your head, is a nightmare of an album. This is largely due to Smith, of course, who removes any pleasure you might get from the largely atonal backing music. I can’t even imagine enjoying this in a club scenario. It’s a wasted effort.

It’s rare that studio experimentation is worth releasing, largely borne out with tracks like Wings cover of the Crossroads theme or The Style Council’s ‘The Stand-Up Comedian’s Instructions,’ and whoever thought they should waste their time releasing this album in hardcopy should get their head examined. If you must, download. But don’t. Really, don’t.
www.myspace.com/vonsudenfed  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Steven Mark – Racing Grey (Basset Records)

The phrases 'MOR' and 'Virgin Radio playlist' hovered like a pall over the first three-quarters of this third album from New York singer-songwriter Steven Mark. By track five, I was pleading for a change of tempo, a note that would test Mark's higher vocal range, a minor chord... anything that would break the insistent alt-rock template that Mark and his band had seemingly set up to strangle any creativity.

Solace briefly arrived on the sixth track 'Take Your Place Now', where harmonies borrowed from Lennon's solo career (brownie points all round) eventually lead to a bridge where Mark threatens to hit the high notes in asking 'are you alive or dead?'. But this promising few seconds pass and the song lapses back into more of the same.

And it is all such a disappointment since the backing band are tight, the vocals are decent and the lyrics are a cut above your average, referencing the high-brow (George Orwell) and not so high-brow (Paris Hilton). Seventh track 'Gods on High' should be an angry and heartfelt rant about the modern obsession with media spin and lies (Mark is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School) but comes across with all the ferocity of a neutered household pet, whilst the nadir is a tepid, lifeless cover of Burt Bacharach's classic 'Always Something There to Remind Me'.

Just when all seems lost, the tenth track 'Father Journeys On' combines a great rhythm and (at long last) some minor chords with the themes of travel and loss and, at last, Mark is onto a winner. Suddenly, he seems to mean what he sings and the refrain in the next track, 'I Never Saw You', is sung with an emotional intensity absent from the first three-quarters of this record. The most high-octane track follows next, lamenting the 'Paris Hilton Generation' with their 'MySpace' and 'X-box American Dreams'. Does Steven Mark have a MySpace page? Of course he does.

And this unfortunate fact underlines the problem with a record that does not have the courage of its convictions. For all the clever social comment, this is a surprisingly one-dimensional effort from a singer-songwriter who, as the closing part of the album shows, should be capable of much better.
www.stevenmarkmusic.com

Chris McCague

 
 

Keren Ann – Keren Ann (EMI) 

This is the fifth album from Keren Ann, so she must have started making them when she was about 10, because the picture on the sleeve seems to show a girl of about 16. The assumption is though that Keren Ann is not a 16 year old. She certainly doesn’t have the voice of one anyway. 

With a strong country influence throughout, particularly the strong country twang in her vocals, Keren Ann’s album decidedly distances itself from ‘pop’, and sounds all the better for it. Influences are hard to pin down, and seem to range from jazz, to country, traditional rock n roll. 

Where No Endings End is a melancholic track featuring piano, trumpet, and strings. The instrumentation is built around Keren Ann’s almost whispered vocals, and it’s a very mysterious almost espionage-esque song.  

Liberty feature some angelic vocals (literally, I’m pretty sure she’s enlisted some kind of heavenly chorus), and some tinkling piano and bells, and is simply lovely. 

Keren Ann’s album is a hazy wander through a bunch of gentle, wonderfully musical, anecdotal, folky, jazzy, country, chorus-y, wonderful songs that will have you come out the other side feeling relaxed and a just a little bit happier.

Catriona Boyle
 

 
 

Kris Drever – Black Water (Reveal Records)

Hailing from Scotland, Kris Drever has carved out an authentic folk sound through the borrowing of traditional classics and a couple of more recent compositions.

The album opens with 'Steel and Stone (Black Water)', which gives Drever the chance to showcase a deep and rich voice, belying his youthful appearance on the sleeve. The production is spartan, allowing the vocals to rise and fall to a pleasant backdrop of acoustic guitars and occasional rolling drums in this first track. The maritime theme continues with 'Braw Sailin' On The Sea' which builds with the help of harmonies from the excellent Kate Rusby, a Mercury Music Prize nominee not so many years ago.

The pace frequently changes, peaking with the clap-along chorus of the 'Harvest Gypsies' before slowing to a crawl for 'Fause Fause', a scottish blues, during which the ghost of Johnny Cash may well leap out of your speakers on the lowest notes. By contrast, some of the more energetic moments appear during the two instrumental tracks, each consisting of three shorter pieces, seamlessly segued together despite their varying origins and themes.

Naturally, much of the interest in this genre of music stems from the stories being told and it is unfortunate that the sleeve omits to include the lyrics, if you discount the occasional handwritten scrawl peeking through the moody artwork. This is especially true if you are going to write a sing about 'politics, power, deceit, action, adventure, heartbreak, fatalities and Aberdeen', in the case of 'Patrick Spence'. Upon turning to the lyrics page on Drever's website for help with this most enigmatic of descriptions, I was rewarded with just one line: 'coming soon'. Perhaps the story is no longer the thing.

However, in the absence of the actual words, Drever's little notes about each piece help to add character to the album and reflect the folk tradition of borrowing and updating old songs for a new audience. And the songs chosen are varied enough in tempo and feel to easily hold the listener's attention right until the end.

Throughout, 'Black Water' is faultlessly executed in every respect and, in Drever, the folk movements has uncovered an accomplished guitarist and singer who has the potential to bring traditional Scottish music to a new audience both North and South of the border.
www.krisdrever.com

Chris McCague

 

James Yorkston – Roaring The Gospel (Domino)

I seem to recall seeing this guy live at a festival last year. I also seem to recall him having a bit of a God complex, and strutting about like he was headlining the main stage rather than playing in a modest sized tent at 3pm. As for his set…I don’t seem to be able to recall much of it. I’d like to think that was more to do with him than me, but that may be a little unfair on him… I was very tired. 

Anecdotes and previous misconceptions aside though, Roaring The Gospel is a sound album and Yorkston’s God complex may not be so misplaced after all. 

James Yorkston’s brand of banjo driven, string laden, acoustic pop folk is more than your average acoustic pop folk. With three albums already under his belt, he has the art of writing and arranging songs down to a tee. As well as sitting above modern contemporaries such as The Shins and Badly Drawn Boy the album also harks back to more traditional sounding folk music, creating something new to listen to that also has a sense of having decades of history behind it.  

Song To The Siren, a Tim Buckley cover becomes a stirring call to arms anthem when put in James’ hands, and sounds almost like a traditional folk tune with the haunting violin in the background. 

Roaring The Gospel deserves some mainstream success to credit Yorkston’s years of hard work and his unique mixture of old and new. And should I ever get the opportunity to see the man live again, I will undoubtedly stay awake.
www.jamesyorkston.co.uk
Watch the video to 'The Hills and the Heath'

Catriona Boyle

 

One More Grain - Pigeon English (Victory Garden)

Ok folks. Before we sit down to give this a listen let's all remember that not everyone wants to be the next Bloc Party or Kaiser Chiefs. Some bands are willing to commit commercial suicide by recording exactly what they want rather than what they can sell. And just to confirm again people - that is a good thing.

One More Grain is largely the brain child of Britain's premier fell walker-cum-alt folk musician, Daniel Patrick Quinn. Following on from two of the most approachable quirky modern folk releases to cross my path in recent years ('Riding the Stang' and 'Severed from the land'), Quinn found that he was beginning to outgrow his Lothian surroundings and moved to London where he quickly acquired a highly versatile and accomplished band. This may prove to be his finest move yet. Whereas his earlier works were typified by their desolate drones and charming bedsit 4-track quality, 'Pigeon English' sets the avid ramblings of DPQ free over the backdrop of rich jazz fare and general freeform jamming. Recorded in a disused pub with leftover keg beer as fuel, unsurprisingly there are times when the spoken word lyrics swirl into chaos and incoherency. Only this is more like the shackles coming off Quinn's previously reserved vocal style. That or the sound of a man who has recently discovered a taste for class A narcotics.

Stand out track for me is 'Won't Get Fooled Again' which is slightly atypical in featuring practically no vocal other than a bit of phased accompaniment. Instead the skill of the band comes through, especially in trumpeter Andrew Blick who manages to drawl out Diamond Dogs era Bowie-style horns over the top of what is otherwise a high tempo yomp of a single.

Where Quinn's vocal and lyrical talents are utilised further, we see a broadening of subject matter. There is still the fascination with the lay of the land, the fells and the natural world, none moreso than in 'Northern', depicting a journey back up the M6 to Penrith which would have sat comfortably on 'Riding the Stang'. But both 'Tropical Mother In law' and 'Against King Moron' are distinctly more urban in character and more interested in the human condition. The latter is positively drenched in Blick's trumpet and sounds like Quinn is stumbling and falling towards a mad rant, brilliantly confused yet perfectly poised too.

Some records are just so different fromthe norm and refreshing that they are worth recommending, even to people who you know won't like it just so you can see their reaction. This triumph fits firmly into that category.
www.myspace.com/onemoregrain

SB

 

Steven Lindsay – Kite (Echo )

Underground cult hero for some time now, Steven Lindsay may slowly be breaking into the mainstream. For those of you who have never heard his name, and I was included in this category until last week, Steven Lindsay embarked on a musical career in the ‘90s with band The Big Dish, and later launched a solo career with debut album ‘Exit’ receiving much critical acclaim. The singer-songwriter is now back with another magical solo record called ‘Kite’.

‘Hairshirt’ drifts in as the first track on the album and is a slow instrumental where beautiful chords glide over a simple beat. Then we are washed into what feels like the soundtrack to an idyllic beach holiday with ‘Put Up The Flag’, on which Lindsay has mixed piano with soft horns to wonderful effect.

There is little value in individually analysing each track because they are all too similar, and it is best enjoyed as a whole. However there is one stand out track; ‘This Monkeys Gone To Heaven’ is due to be the first single from ‘Kite’ and as a Pixies’ classic a very bold move. Steven Lindsay pulls off the only cover on the album by making it sound completely new and like one of his own; replacing Francis Black’s original snarl with haunting vocals, again backed up by simple but effective piano.

Needless to say, Steven Lindsay is not going to be the next Jeff Buckley, who instantly springs to mind with talk of magical singer-songwriters, but we wouldn’t want him to be. ‘Kite’ is far more easy-going, calm music, even if it will take a number of plays to learn to love, it is the perfect album if you are in mood for something relaxing and thoughtful.
www.myspace.com/stevenlindsay

Claire Drury

 
 

Groove Armada - Soundboy Rock (Columbia)

It’s been 5 years since Groove Armada’s last album ‘Lovebox’. About 2 years ago, after 4 albums, Grammy nominations and their own London club night, the stars of Groove Armada – Tom Findlay and Andy Cato had considered jacking it all in. Thankfully for us, they didn’t. 

This album ‘Soundboy Rock’ is different from the others in that the majority of it was written separately, with Cato in Barcelona and Findlay in North London. It’s also different in the fact that initially it doesn’t appear to have the infectious tunes their other albums have had, such as ‘Superstylin’ or ‘At the River’. However, there are lots here to enjoy and that becomes more apparent with each listen. 

There are lots of styles on this album from chilled out tunes, reggae, pop, funky house, hip hop and dirty breaks. There are also some interesting collaborations from Simian Mobile Disco’s Simon Lord, Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer and Sugababes’s Mutya, although I have to say ‘Song 4 Mutya’ is a bit too cheesy pop for my liking.  

The first single from the album ‘Get Down’ feat Stush, is a bouncy tune with a filthy bassline and lots of attitude. My favourite tracks on the album entitled ‘Paris’ and ‘Love Sweet Sound’ feature the vocalist Candi Staton who has a wonderfully individual, husky voice that really suits the music. ‘Paris’ is quite a chilled track with a classic Groove Armada sound, whilst ‘Love Sweet Sound’ is a funky, summer tune.  

‘Soundboy Rock’ definitely takes a few listens to fully appreciate what it has to offer. I think this album was made to be played live and loud. With their international tour imminent, I suggest you get yourself a copy of ‘Soundboy Rock’ and a ticket for one of their gigs so you can sing and dance to these tunes as much as their older classics. One thing’s for certain, Groove Armada haven’t forgotten how to write great dance music.  

Louise Butler