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  albums - june 2007

 

 

The Mules – “Save Your Face” 

Aptly named this lot, for they stubbornly refuse to stick to one or two easily identifiable influences and instead pack out each brief blast of song with a myriad of rhythms, words and ideas. “Polly-O” is a spirited punky shout-a-thon propelled forward by machine gun drumming - an arresting opener. Yet, immediately afterward, the listener is forced to contend with the title track which, like its siblings “Picking in my Business” and “Ham Shank”, comes on like an even more demented version of the South Park theme tune. Elsewhere, one can also detect a definite ska influence but again, the sheer energy on display makes the phrase “Madness on uppers” an understatement. 

In fact, there is a zany cartoon element to many of the songs…not that they’re silly or ridiculous in anyway way…no, more in that they each burst with an unrestrained sense of exploration and possibility. Try and peg these guys and you’ll end up like Wile E. Coyote, legs spinning pointlessly above a yawning chasm, or earn yourself a swift hoof to the jaw for your troubles. This is definitely a record that requires a good few listens before you can even begin to get your head around it, and perhaps this makes it easier to admire than to actually love. Still, isn’t it great to witness a band making a true effort to produce varied music and yet make it sound so…effortless?
www.themules.co.uk

Will Columbine

 

Maps - We Can Create (Mute)

Having heard the single 'It Will Find You' with it's bleak but pulsating Nordic overtones underlying a steadfast Krautrock background I had expected great things from this album. Would the creator of Maps, James Chapman, be able to continue this quality of writing across a whole album?

Early signs are promising with 'So Low, So High', 'You Don't Know Her name' and 'Elouise' all creating that icy and taut sound to varying levels of success. Certain themes resurface such as the unearthly treatment of the vocals and disembodied production. 'It Will Find You' is still the most uplifting effort on the record and evokes the likes of Fischerspooner and Back Laid.

But sadly much of the remainder flounders in a morass of airy vocals and echoey production - probably as a result of trying to slightly mask Chapman's undeniably weak voice. 'Liquid Sugar' sounds exactly like that - sickly sweet but insubstantial and few of the further offerings achieve any kind of lasting impression. Twinkly synth heavily produced isn't enough and the album suffers from a lack of dynamism and variety. 'Back + Forth' begins promisingly with an ethereal vocal sample cum synth line but again the familiar beats kick in and the vocals fail to inject any kind of life into the song. This album is probably for hardcore shoe-gazers only.
www.mapsmusic.com

SB

 
 

Solitary Extraction – “Tape Deck Orchestra” 

Brad Weber is one of the fine fellows responsible for the Winter Equinox “Safe & Sound” LP that I had the pleasure of reviewing almost 18 months ago, and this, his solo effort, is no less a treat for the ears. As eclectic as ever, several genres are represented here and often within the confines of the same track – Weber is clearly the master of the mash-up! “Shift Left” is an acoustic cousin to Mogwai’s “Punk Rock” (from the “Come On Die Young” record), while “Death of the Tilde”, with its xylophone, dry thudding beats and chattering typewriter rhythm is not only perhaps the finest Kieran Hebden tribute I’ve yet heard but also one of the best tunes on the album. The layers of pummeling guitar that rises out of the mix during the latter stages prove, however, that Weber is no mere imitator. 

“Maps & Climate Change” begins and ends as a tribal drum-fest, yet the folk-element introduced midway through changes the mood irrevocably. “Goomul Forest” might be the best prog post-rock hybrid ever assembled on a laptop. And how many layers of percussion does it take to evoke a swarm of motorbikes revving their engines? “Fallacy” will give you a clue. There’s really no need for vocals with everything else so meticulously placed, and when they do appear it only serves to distract. In this instance, it’s like Neil from “The Young Ones” mumbling in your ear about lentils and third world poverty whilst you’re getting off with a hot chick on the sofa at a particularly swingin’ house party. “Memory Lock” has some nice harmonies on it, mind. Way to go, Brad!
www.solitaryextraction.com

Will Columbine

 
 

The Voices - ‘The Sound of Young America’ (My Kung Fu)

Cardiff three-piece The Voices return with their second full length, ‘The Sound of Young America,’ an enchantingly pictographic soundscape of lush, studio shined shoegaze. From the sugary sentimental song titles to the syrupy enveloping of elongated and fuzzy guitars, The Voices have the potential to come across incredibly ordinary, and dare I say it, cheesy. Visibly treading melodic trails championed by beloved My Bloody Valentine, the most obvious influence, The Voices could easily be mistaken for an inconsiderate, commercial rip-off hazily trapped in a 1984 time warp. A doubtful listen may overlook this substantial and refreshing tribute, a quite dazzlingly beautiful effort.  

What set The Voices apart from their indie-ancestors is an intricately dense cinematic affect. Instead of common verse-chorus-refrain- forms, ‘The Sound of Young America’ consists of cyclical structures and intense assails on the senses without claustrophobic vocal demonstrations. Sweeping, triumphant flights of sun-sparkled feedback and optimistic escapist, interweaving vocal echoes transport you into a fanciful, flossy dream. 

It is the recurring impression of vast spaces and principally lyric-less zest that assert that The Voices have more in common with soundtrack composers than pop musicians. The significantly accessible and confident instrumental rapture poetically offer varied interpretations, associations, and imagery, consisting of a type of sonic omnipotence.  With the exception of raw but tender track ‘Don’t Let Go’ which isolates synth and vocals, the album swirls about in almost-entirely instrumental jams, bestowing a sense of weightless freedom. In combination with open-air instrumentals and overwhelmingly sentimental song track titles of romantically-ridden themes (i.e., ‘I’ll Always Be Within You When There’s No One Left Inside,’ ‘…You Broke A Heart I Gave To You,’ ‘Love’) the entire effort feels like a perhaps, ironic modernist approach to old western films, like a sonic exploration of the western frontier if the wild-wild west were head by guitar-lassoing hipsters instead of John Wayne.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

Bonde Do Role - With Lasers (Domino) 

Brazil is cool. It always has been, it’s just that you didn’t notice. It took until 2002, really, with the release of Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, a film which dealt with the harsh realities of ghetto life in Rio de Janeiro in a way that made it seem, well, cool. It also showed, if you’re interested in social anthropology, that Brazilian kids don’t just listen to Samba music and wait for carnivale for their kicks.

The first band to show a side to Brazilian music beyond ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ were the mighty Sepultura, who not only could play demonic rock with the best of them, but only chucked in the Brazilian influences that mattered, like the pouding of carnival drums. Nowadays we’ve got the much more knowing Cansei de Ser Sexy, who wear their Christina Aguilera love on their sleeve and are riding the wave of jerky dance popularised by Mylo, LCD Soundsystem and New Young Pony Club.

Bonde Do Role are not just along for the ride. Although the influence of their mother country is much more blatant, they imbue their debut album with the same sense of fun and trash as their bigger compatriot, and cheeky single ‘Office Boy’ is merely a pointer as to the type of experience this album offers.

There’s not a lot you’ll be able to understand unless you speak Portuguese, but like a lot of foreign language albums that end up on these shores, somehow it adds to the ambience rather than detracting from it. Par example, I have no idea what Solta O Frango means, but it sounds exciting and it makes me want to shake about in a rhythmic fashion, and not even because of a medical condition.

Okay, maybe the carnival shtick wears a little thin after a while, and you might not listen to it more than two or three times. But Bonde Do Role are less like Marmite and more like ordering a prawn curry – at first you’re apprehensive, but you’ll enjoy it once you’ve given it a try.
www.myspace.com/bondedorole  

Chris Stanley

 

Gallows - ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ (Black Envelope) 

me • di • o • cre /ˌmidiˈoʊkər/ Pronunciation Key [mee-dee-oh-ker] (adj.)
1. of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate.
2. rather poor or inferior. 

Ignorance is bliss. Reminiscing darling recollections of past respect I once carried for most music press and publications, I forget how incredibly naïve and gullible I once was. I retch to think how I actually internalized the opinions of music magazines rather than make up my own mind about pop. Meet the latest “D.I.Y. hardcore” Watford outfit, fresh out of the media-hype-machine, Gallows. ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ was actually released in December of last year, but the lot’s whirlwind rise to the top encouraged high demand, hence, this June re-release with special edition bonus CD.

One second into the album’s introductory track, ‘Kill The Rhythm,’ I am sonically bulldozed by a violent force of ear-splitting, militant commands bolstered by some bombastic metallic guitar behaviour, sounds exciting, right? Exciting if it actually goes somewhere, but it doesn’t. What is distressing about bands like Gallows is the brown-nosed journalism and undeserved press praise. One popular magazine crowned them “the band declaring war on mediocrity….” let me get this straight…. I understand the militant reference, as their musical output embraces one hell-of-a blood-thirst for confrontation, but war on mediocrity? That would mean that Gallows are fighting mediocrity with mediocrity. Now, that doesn’t sound like smart war strategy, does it? 

It is too reminiscent of the ferocious fervour that feebly passed when At the Drive-In became The Mars Volta, except the entire album feels one-dimensional, run-of –the-mill, much-of-the-same. ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ sheds light with some instrumental complexity with a significant, symphonic sigh that shatters into interesting theatrical territory, a direction I would have enjoyed to hear expressed more often. Apparently the one-dimensional kick-in-the-head is Gallows’ shtick and I am ignorantly missing the point, perhaps I am. Word on the street is that their live shows are the hottest ticket in town, but unless they shit sparkles, I will remain unimpressed.
www.myspace.com/gallows

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

heartyhyeah - Traps (Thee Sheffield Phonographic Company) 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this was a piss-take. It’s released through Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation [sic] and they seem to revel in that kind of amateur status, as if everything they release is a private joke. This could mean that they’ve got a particularly devilish sense of humour, or they’ve got together to play a hugely elaborate trick on southern folk.

Be that as it may, I have a plastic disc full of tunes in my possession, and it did indeed sound like a serious composition rather than half an hour of random jokes and insults about how soft anyone who’s not from Sheffield is. It is touch and go, though, since I use the words ‘tunes’ and ‘serious composition’ in their most liberal sense – indeed, so liberal, that Sir Menzies Campbell would be seen as a ranting fascist next to them.

heartyeah [sic, and boy am I getting sic of having to write that] are a two-piece from the suddenly cool-again city of steel who are obsessed with My Bloody Valentine and shouting. One makes noise, and so does the other. And on the whole, they’re terrible at it. Warren Myles, the principal shouter, has words in his head that just won’t go away, so he views the act of recording as some kind of existential exorcism.

It’s been noted that heartyeah make ‘sleazy techno,’ and that’s a pretty accurate description. Underneath all the art-rock posturing and clever clever noise pollution, there are tunes waiting to come out. If I was a record producer, my advice would be to get rid of the lead singer, but because there are only two people in heartyeah, that would leave one bloke standing there with a guitar, shouting. But we call those people buskers, or Mark E Smith.

Traps is not great. It’s very far from being it. However funny this whole thing was meant to be, it’s pretty adolescent. heartyeah need a clip around the ear, an early bath and a stint on the naughty step. Anything that keeps them away from recording equipment, in fact.
www.heartyeah.co.uk
www.myspace.com/heartyeah  

Chris Stanley  

 
 

To My Boy - 'Messages'

‘To my boy’ are Sam White and Jack Snape, a duo who are currently gigging like it’s going out of fashion, armed with guitar and computer in a bid to convert hearts and minds to their brand of electro indie. The tracks are short, generally around the radio-friendly 2 1/2 minute mark, and the lively toe-tapping pace never lets up. All of the songs feature the kind of twitchy, frantic beats that will get your head nodding on first listen, although may give you a headache after the second or third. This marks them out as a band better suited to the dancefloor poser than the bedroom listener. That is not to say that the songs are lacking in ambition when it comes to content; more that it sometimes gets lost in the mix, between the tight guitar riffs, syncopated hand-clap beats and catchy disco refrains. They touch upon sensitive subjects such as mortality, (‘Fear of Fragility’) personal insecurities (current single, ‘Model’) and social phobia (‘Talk’), although their forays into these issues are rarely of more depth than a few artful rhyming couplets.

‘I am in the Zone’ features a chorus carefully calculated to be chanted by a posse of drunken club-goers and ‘I am Xray’ glories in the kind of retro computer beeps designed to be pogoed to. ‘Talk’ stands out as having allure beyond the cheap thrills of the dancefloor, with its mix of little-boy-lost vocals and finger-clicking rhythms recalling the Cure. A fairly unremarkable record, but featuring a zeitgeisty sound and enough catchy electronic pop singles to guarantee an appreciative following among the sweaty, tipsy friday night indie throngs.

Tessa Hall

 
 

Mice Parade - Mice Parade

Mice Parade is an anagram of Adam Pierce, the one-man band behind this record. It is the seventh release under this name, and one that sees him exploring the same ambient territory as his previous efforts, with a little help from his friends.

Comprised of an economic nine tracks, the album is consistent in its bittersweet emotional tone and nuanced atmosphere, as well as its subtle, intelligent compositions. Each track is a carefully constructed mosaic of different textures of strumming guitar, layered vocal harmonies and intricate percussion, demonstrating skill and ambition without becoming too complex, dense or inaccessible. Even the potentially grating presence of the bizarre, childlike whispered vocals of guest Kristin Anna Valtysdottir on standout track ‘Double Dolphins on the Dime’ is seamlessly incorporated into the mix, somehow seeming entirely appropriate in spite of the fact half of the lyrics are in Icelandic.

In fact Valtysdottir’s appearance, as well as that of Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler on the gorgeous ‘The Tales of Las Negras’, are important in providing twists to what could otherwise become a structurally and melodically repetitive album, as elsewhere it seems to veer little from its ambient post-rock path. Pierce’s own vocals are less striking than those of his guests, functioning as another instrument as opposed to being featured for their own sake. This is testament to the fact that early Mice Parade releases were entirely instrumental. The wistful lyrics offered here prove Pierce’s confidence with this development, notably on the poetic ‘Satchelaise’ with the casually delivered power of the line ‘by the way, the ring was made of glass’.

This album is clearly the work of Pierce in his comfort zone, delivering a collection of considered, heartfelt contemplative moments. Some listeners may wish he’d pushed himself by taking more risks on the album, as he clearly has the musicianship to handle it, while others will be content to lose themselves in its beautiful patterns.

Tessa Hall

 

Paul Hartnoll - The Ideal Condition (ACP)

Opinions about the legacy of Orbital vary greatly from person to person. There are those that think they were responsible almost single handedly for moulding dance music away from a throw-away plastic pop towards a more intelligent and considered approach. Others think Orbital haven't written a decent song for years. I'm thinking the truth probably lies somewhere between the two for the brothers Hartnoll. They were influential but in fairness some of their later albums had a few stale sounding tracks so what better timing than to branch out into something new for Paul?

There's also been the intriguing proposition of what direction this album cold take. Clearly a lot of people would be looking for a revamped version of Orbital and early signs from the release of the near flawless electro classic 'Patchwork Guilt' were that this would be the case. This was followed up by employing a heavyweight guest vocalist in the form of The Cure's Robert Smith to lend a hand on second single 'Please', again very much in a traditional techno vibe.

The resulting album 'The Ideal Condition' therefore is actually a bit of a revelation. Whereas Orbital had never been shy from sampling the odd live instrument (just think of harpsichord part to 'The Box'), from the outset of 'Haven't We Met Before?' Hartnoll employs great swathes of orchestral arrangements all over the track to an extent that you have to actually really listen to realise that some of this still is electronic music. It exhibits a filmic grandeur very much in keeping with the likes of John Barry and Ennio Morricone and could very much be an application for the next Bond movie theme tune.

Again the line between synthesised and natural instrumentation is blurred beyond recognition in the majestic sweeping lines of 'For Silence' which really springs to life with the breathless vocals of Lianne Hall and the rich string arrangements. This may way be forcing 'Patchwork Guilt' into second place for my favourite track on the album. By comparison, I find the juxtaposition of the reedy instruments with the warbling electronics on 'Simple Sounds' a little uncomfortable. This sounds like it could be parlour music for some time travelling Georgian adventurer. 'Unsteady Waltz' sees a more sturdy handling of the various orchestral parts but again would be very at home as incidental music to a period drama.

Akayzia Parker guests on the unashamedly upbeat feel good track of the album, 'Nothing Else Matters' which will surely be snapped up as some TV show theme very quickly. This contrasts really nicely with the pulsating slightly deranged vibe of 'Aggro' where Joseph Arthur guests on demented vocals which are immersed in superbly contorted sax breaks and snarling synth parts. It must be the sax and the vocal intonations because even beneath all those electronics there's a hint of Bowie at his very finest.

The album closer and calm after the storm is 'Dust Motes', an orchestral arrangements which waxes and wanes, builds and recedes, layers and strips down. It's at this point that you begin to realise what Paul Hartnoll has created here. This is proper composition in the classical sense and the skill of weaving a few beats and synths into the album almost unnoticed is quite considerable. On first listen you feel that 'The Ideal Condition' is pretty disjointed, a schizophrenic concept album torn between laying down a CV for lucrative future film score work and sticking with a tried and tested electro formula. On second listen you'll pick out a couple of good tracks that you want to hear again. But by your third listen you will just be so staggered by Hartnoll's mastery of composition that you won't be thinking anymore - you'll just want to listen.
www.paulhartnoll.com

SB

 
 

The Boats – ‘Tomorrow Time’ (Moteer)

Firstly an apology to The Boats. I received this album to scribble about in December last year. However due to my natural slothfulness and an increasingly crippling solvent addiction I have only just put pen to metaphorical paper. With that dealt with I can actually begin to comment on this wonderful album. ‘Tomorrow Time’ ploughs a similar furrow to their 2005 release ‘We Made It For You’. Melancholy atmospheric vocals are combined with electronic glitches and tied together with a strong indie-pop sensibility. On this release The Boats are most reminiscent of Hood or Múm, and are as good as those comparisons would suggest. ‘Tomorrow Time’ is a very melancholy release, but at the same time has a great deal of warmth. A perfect album for cold winter nights. This would have been useful information if I’d reviewed it when I received it in December and not in fucking May. Hey ho.

Michael Pearson

 
 

Conjoint –‘A Few Empty Chairs’ (Buro) 

Having listened to ‘A Few Empty Chairs’ a couple of times I’m still struggling to muster any sort of reaction to it.  Conjoint combine elements of jazz, lounge and electronica in a similar fashion to Tortoise circa ‘TNT’. Unfortunately ‘A Few Empty Chairs’ lacks the compositional flair of that release, and so simply meanders in a rather unfocussed fashion.  It’s perfectly pleasant, but completely unremarkable. Essentially it’s dinner party music for beret users.

Michael Pearson

 
 

Biffy Clyro – Puzzle 

This album is better than any album you really like. Biffy Clyro are better than any band you really like. This isn’t my opinion, I’m not being subjective. This album is phenomenal. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it a few times (and by that I means I’ve listened to it every day for 3 weeks), and see the songs performed live. I’ve even seen the fantastic adverts for this album. The stars have aligned around Biffy for some time. They just keep making great albums. If you don’t know about them by now, find them. Buy all their albums. If you don’t like this album, or Biffy Clyro, you are wrong. Fact. 

Simon Neil has a lovely voice. It’s the kind you can immediately associate with his speaking voice. There isn’t any affectation; it comes naturally to him and makes the songs sound as full of meaning and as personal as they were clearly intended to be. These songs are recognisably Biffy Clyro; inventive both in lyric and music, catchy, tuneful and uniformly great. This is an album that you’ll like whether you’re a Biffy fan or have never heard of them before.  I guaren-damn-tee it!*   

This will probably be the album that makes them huge. Good. This is a great album. You need to own it and listen to it a lot. I could tell you that the singles are not stand out tracks – they are all that damn good; I could tell you that the album is so good I know people who can’t go two days without listening to it; I could use all kinds of (lazy) tricks to say something that is actually simple. I love Biffy Clyro, I was hoping, like I do whenever bands I like make a new album, that they would not disappoint me. They have not and you should own this album because it is more deserving of your money than anything else you were going to buy. Even food. Buy food too though.

Christopher Carney

*(Not actually a redeemable guarantee.)

 

Hot Chip - DJ Kicks 

INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: "Hot Chip. Damn I like them. A DJ mix album? An eclectic collection of their favourite records/influences blended together in an easy to digest collection? Sounds great, but how to review it? Should I point out the vast array of styles, ranging from Ray Charles and Etta James, through to New Order and reaching places such as the absolutely amazing 'Like You' by Gramme. Electro soul, hip hop, indie, techno, even original r'n'b. Crikey - that's a lot to cover! Maybe I should comment on the pacing, and how you're either satisfied by the track in near completion or left wanting more by a sneaky snippet? No, that'd sound crap... Damn it, the review deadline has just sailed past my head, I HAVE to write something... 

Hang on, maybe I could just provide a handy summary. If you like good music, as Hot Chip obviously do, and you want to hear it put together in a fun and interesting way, then you should defintitely get this CD. If not, then there's no hope for you. There, done. But will that be enough words? Perhaps I can argue quality over quantity...No, I've got it, end with a quotable soundbite. 'Buy it, it's great!' Oh no, they'll never accept that..."
www.hotchip.co.uk

Matt Latham

 
 

Jon Redfern – May Be Some Time (Reveal Records)

Jon Redfern's debut album is a bit of a crossover record, infusing jazz time signatures and the atmosphere of the blues into modern folk arrangements. Opener 'I'm Still Young' spins along nicely thanks to some fast fiddle work and yearning vocals which fit the music perfectly. The slower and downbeat 'Am I A fool?' follows before the beautiful 'Lost' surrounds you with glockenspiels and grainy vocals in a tale which brings to mind the futility of trying to capture those fleeting moments and encounters that mean so much.
 
The melancholy is exacerbated by the seasick feeling created by some of the odd time signatures such as the 5 beats in every bar of the brassy ballad 'All This Time I'. Elsewhere, Lou Peacock's violins on 'Can't Take The Heat' superbly capture that desire to do absolutely nothing on a sultry August day while 'Give Away Your Heart I' is the closest you'll get to "folk-emo" with some of the most emotional and direct vocals on the album.
 
Several more songs follow that are so laid-back as to be almost horizontal, before 'Somewhere' injects some fresh impetus into the back end of a carefully crafted record. Five (yes really five) bonus tracks complete the record including a lovely stripped-down rendition of the traditional 'Spencer the Rover' with just tenor saxophone, acoustic guitar and vocals.

The only question marks over an otherwise accomplished LP are the lyrics, which hover over a line between ambigious and banal at times, and the odd decision to create three two-part songs such as 'Demons I' and 'Demons II' without always having a clear link between the two and, on one occasion, putting a couple of tracks in between. However, Redfern's sound is distinct with a warm concoction of rootsy sound that makes listening through the seventeen tracks on offer a pleasure. 
www.jonredfern.com

Chris McCague

 
 

Abdominal - Escape From The Pigeon Hole

Abdominal is a Toronto-based, hip hop MC and Escape From The Pigeon Hole is his debut album. You can tell he's from Toronto by the track T-Ode, which makes that clear with an intro featuring mayor David Miller, followed by a series of shouts out to different parts of the city. Subtle this guy ain't.

'Escape from the Pigeon Hole' covers such topics as being a bike courier, open relationships and radio censorship. Not the usual areas overlooked by hip hop which is to be commended. Another positive is the production values,  DJ Format, Cut Chemist (from Jurassic 5), Young Einstein (from Ugly Duckling), DJ Fase, DJ Serious, Circle Research and cuts by World DMC champion DJ Dopey. This results in chunky beats, groovy basslines and impressive use of samples.

But, and I'm afraid it's BIG but,  Abdominal's input is nothing to get worked up about. 'Radio Friendly' consists of him saying 'Fuck' as much as possible. 'T-Ode' just bigs up his home town in the most banal way possible. 'Sex with Girls' sounds like a horny teenager trying to impress with his knowledge of 'da laydeez'. On 'Breathe Later'  he raps over 16 bars without taking a breath, but the gimmick soon loses its attraction.

It seems such a shame, when the tunes and delivery are fresh 'n' funky, and the subject matter a change from the norm, but the lyrics and the spirit behind them are so depressingly mundane and juvenile. You are left with the feeling that, if Abdominal would push his lyrics to match the quality of the ideas and music, he could come up with something truly memorable.
http://www.myspace.com/Mcabdominal

Matt Latham

 
 

Beatnik Filmstars – Shenaniganism: Tape Hiss and Other Imperfections (The International Lo-fi Underground)

The first track of the nineteen packed into this energetic melting pot of lo-fi experimentation could easily lull you into thinking this will be pleasant, easy-on-the-ear, acoustic fare. But then the scruffy layers of 'Are You Doggin' I Up' introduce themselves like an Alka Seltzer fizzing in your cochlea (a note for the prudish: doggin' apparently means 'looking' in Bristol-speak and has nothing to do with sex in alleyways) and you know you are in for quite a ride.
 
For an album that was recorded in just two weeks and without the aid of computers, this is not the stripped-down record you might expect. As well as the largely omnipresent crunchy guitar riffs, there is radio interference, looped samples of football commentary, a bit of saxophone here and there and, most bizarrely, I swear there is a six-year old boy playing PacMan during both 'Life Model' and 'Air Stewardess Jackie Harrison'.
 
Influences seem to stretch far and wide. There are echoes of the Kinks on 'Blackpool', perhaps the most obvious choice for a radio single, as a playful xylophone teams up with plenty of alcohol references to create a great summer tune. The bright guitar riffs of The Hives drive the superbly titled 'Inside the Mind of Sam (The Breakfast Serial Killer)' while the vocals veer from George Harrison to Kasabian and back again.
 
But the Beatnik sound is very much their own, creating layers and textures that sound unlike anything you will hear on a commercial radio station. The lyrics and tunes are strong and varied, even on the gentler numbers like 'Awake?' which is a very decent brass-infused ballad squeezed in before another Kinks' inspired number 'Psychedically Inclined Man About Town'. Closing stomper 'The Affable Gaffer's Drinking Club Song' affirms just how good Beatnik Filmstars' eighth album is. If this is what can be achieved with two microphones in a house in Bristol, who needs recording studios?
www.myspace.com/theinternationallofiunderground

Chris McCague

 
 

Hey Colossus - Project:Death (Jonson Family / Shifty / Underhill / Rimbaud) 

I've always preferred a more live sound to a recording and never been a fan of shiny, over produced music, but this is leaning more toward the direction of “recorded at the bottom of a well on a Fisher Price cassette recorder”. Yet that's exactly why I love it. Hey Colossus' 3rd full length release ‘Project:Death’ is pure, blissful filth. Continually shifting between the immense funeral dirge of Isis (such as 8 minute opener 'Do They Ever Return?'), and the desolate sonic destruction of Fudge Tunnel ('I Am The Chiswick Strangler'), this record is a mass of psychedelia, as heavy as a fucking really big brick, and absolutely drenched in sludge. Complemented by the odd ancient-sounding electronic sample that would surely put a smile on William Hartnell's face, Project:Death is 8 tracks and 38 minutes of stripped-to-the-bones stoner sludge that crawls and savours every riff. The lyrics are barely discernable over the huge distorted guitar sound and could do with being slightly louder in the mix, but seeing as there's more fuzz on display here than a chinchilla orgy, they never really stood a chance.

Bottom line: Project:Death is a fucking colossal album. It's not exactly pretty, even down to the no-frills artwork (the cover being a blood soaked meat cleaver), but I'm sure Hey Colossus wouldn't have it any other way. If you like your music heavy, unpolished and dirty as hell, check this out immediately.
www.heycolossus.com
www.myspace.com/heycolossus

Jimmy P

 
 

Various - Space Tranquil mixed by Jon sa Trinxa (Space) 

No doubt this compilation of will be marketed along the lines ‘summer chill out bliss’ with a heavy dose of annoying rhetoric about ‘clubland’ and the inhabitants of that fictitious paradise. Space is a nightclub, situated in a huge car park, on what the aficionados refer to as ‘the White Isle’, Ibiza to you and me. But, rather than the four-to-the-floor house music for which Ibiza is famed, this compilation focuses on the after-the-afterparty hours. Music to come down by. 

Presumably for comic effect, there’s a jazz version of ‘Imagine’ and lots of rambling downtempo soundscapes, interspersed with a smidgen of deep house and some inconsequential dub.  Its music for when everyone is too spannered to mix.  Heavy drug filled paranoia. Non challenging music. Let it wash over you, pass you by, leave you alone. 

By design, there’s nothing offensive enough to warrant real criticism, but no genuine reasons exist for anybody to buy it.  It’s a million miles from the cutting edge, out in the vast nothingness, of clubland.  I’m giving my copy to the next gurner I spot down the disco.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Attack! Vipers! – The Mirror And The Destroyer (Rat Patrol) 

For a band that have put themselves in the position of having to run around screaming hysterically about being advanced upon by a gang of poisonous serpents every time someone enquires as to their name, Attack! Vipers! are definitely not here to waste anyone's time. The music doesn't hit me straight away, and on first listen the production leaves something to be desired, especially considering the quality of the accompanying artwork and the obvious effort put into the packaging. For me, the album truly begins when 'One Four One' comes at you from around the corner and crushes you into oblivion with its Mastodon-esque assault. Without so much as a second to breathe, 'D-Rail Me' picks your trampled body up from the ground and mauls it into a bloody pulp, with the kind of depravity that the mighty Converge are infamous for. The production suddenly seems to sound just right with the sudden leap in intensity, complementing each instrument without sounding over-polished. This furious duo of songs seems to act as a benchmark for the rest of the album, as what we get is a short and not so much sweet as discordant assault. A swift 7 minutes and 3 tunes of blistering modern hardcore later, ‘The Mirror and The Destroyer’ ends with its lengthy title track; a dark acoustic number which fades out into feedback and leaves me with only one option: the repeat button. This is unrelenting, aggressive hardcore punk with a razor sharp bite, and for a band that played their first ever gig just over a year ago, their future looks pretty damn bright for this Portsmouth quartet.
http://www.ratpatrolrecs.com
http://www.myspace.com/attackvipers

Jimmy P

 
 

Messenger - Head for Glory – (East Central One) 

Messanger hail from Oakland, sorry, Finland, nope, its actually Norway.  ‘No-way’ I hear you cry… I’ll stop there, but it’s true, they are Scandanavian. 

Not that you’d know it from a listen, Messanger sound like they’re from the US.  They sound like they’re from 1993.  They sound like Bon Jovi. 

And that’s that really, if you like Bon Jovi, then they’re an accomplished and inventive band, with good songwriting skills.  The lyrics are nice and cheesy, they’re delivered in the classic super-heartfelt way and the release is peppered with “driving anthems”. 

Yes, they sing in fake accents, yes, they persevere with a type of music about as up-to-the-minute as the mangle, but, they do it in a wonderfully polished way.  Good clean fun for those who lament the demise of hair metal and soft rock.

Ian Anderson

 

Various -Kitsune Maison - Compilation 4 (Kitsune) 

Its all so old, all so new. The Kitsune label have survived at the cusp of the mainstream, thrusting great dollops of inventive French House forwards since way back before the, and it pains me to use the term, ‘new-rave revolution’.  On this form, they’ll hopefully, deservedly, outlast it. 

Darkel kick things off with Be My Friend, abusing an excellent riff which must be so close to being classed as stolen, ripped, thieved and lifted from Brainbug’s Nightmare, as to be anticipating a imminent and nasty suing for breach of copyright: It’s unfortunate that the track tails off a bit with an underwhelming vocal, which, unfortunately, centres around a mispronunciation.  ‘Be my fwend?’ erm, no thanks, I’m fine as I am.  

That’s the only bum track, but I can wager a fiver, nay a tenner right now, that should you purchase this album, you’ll kick off with track 3.  Feist’s, My Moon My Man.  Which is a shame, as The Whip have done a great job with track two, Divebomb. Turning a minimal techno roller into a colossus of overdriven synths, with a genuinely catchy hook.  Feist still steal the show though, with their epic, deeply French, deeply beautiful soundscape, undulating between handclaps, layers of filtered noise and wavering acapellas.  Astounding. 

Not to suggest for one moment that it’s downhill from there.  Rather, it’s up hill and down dale, round the houses and out of the city to the beach as the listener is transported through a collection of imaginatively crafted dance records.  Lovingly produced, every track has ‘that Kitsune sound’.  As hard to describe to the uninitiated as Super Discount, and every bit as good, there’s a restrained pseudo-funk underpinning most of the good stuff on here.  British loudmouth band-of-the-moment Hadouken! muscle in with Tuning In, which features the revival of the ‘hoover’ sound last seen leaving Sundissential in 1999 in a beefed up Vauxhall Nova.  Bizzarely, and miraculously, they pull it off. 

There’s bordering on New-Wave from Passions, bordering on straight up four-to-the-floor house from Dragonette and bordering on techno from Guns n Bombs and it all works wonderfully.  Rarely can a dance compilation, especially one that’s not mixed together by a DJ, hold my attention.  This one does.
www.myspace.com/maisonkitsune

Ian Anderson

 
 

Los Perros d'Amour - Puta Madre (Blue Monkey) 

Lazy, used a million times samples, scratched haphazardly over tired, boring, house beats with irritating vocals and guitar that belongs somewhere, anywhere, else, this is a shambles of Millenium Dome proportions. 

There’s nothing to redeem it, to save it from befalling the same fate as that super structure, disappearing from the public conscious, tossed aside by the angry public. 

The production levels are alarming, noticeable bumps in volume petrifying the listener.  Lyrically it’s as complex as paper-scissors-stone, but nothing like as satisfying.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Escapologists – A New Language: Outtakes, Demos and Other Small Things 

Seemingly having constructed their songs around the circumscribed ballads of early / late Blur, Escapologists persist with a lo-fidelity, often laconic and nearly always fuzzy sound that’s prone to explosions of confidence and Bloc Party-esque atmospherics. 

It works really well on Pilot, with its great mid-song gear change and comparatively expansive finale.  The pianos, which are now sadly missing from the lineup provide a fantastic anarchic background as the keys are randomly bludgeoned. 

Closing track Just Scenery, makes me want to re-watch Trainspotting. The scummy glamour pervading and the relentless pound of the kick drum. 

There’s enough in the sound to shift Escapologists away from being pigeonholed as post-Brit-pop and plenty to indicate that they’re a band not lacking ideas.  Questions is a little over-indulgent and, since this is a collection, rather than an album, there’s a lack of continuance, but, there’s plenty of promise.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Shy Child - Noise Won't Stop – (Wall of Sound) 

The opening track of this debut album had me up and listening from the instant the squelchy electric dribble is eschewed by the bomb-blast of the kick drum and ‘keytar’ of vocalist Pete Cafarella and a wonderful electro-breaks chorus builds.  There’s the clear influence of Detroit techno in there, but the sound is much warmer, with a less serious vibe. There’s a bit of the Beastie Boys, a smidgen of LCD Soundsystem and one tenth of it is California surf rock, oh and five percent Leftfield. Varied; indeed. 

Prodigy-style sirens and stabby vocals low in the mix on Pressure to Come remind me of happier times, as a youngster, sticking pins through the bodies of dead insects. Each beat is a sharp crack, an ooze of sickly innards. Randomly switching from hard-to-pigeon-hole pop to bass-led warped claustrophobia, a brooding snarl here and there adds a new dimension, and some depth.   

Enough variation is provided, from pure songwriting, to the Beastie Boys meets DJ Zinc darkness of the title track.  Typically there’s pure 80s overindulgence, a touch of glam rock, then the whole thing is mercilessly cleaved in half by a Pendulum-esque bassline. 

A lot of fun, some innovation, the odd great chorus: It’s only let down by a bit of shoddy rapping on ‘Kick Drum’, the slightly one dimensional vocals and the final track, which seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. 

Future efforts might be helped along by a guest vocalist or two to provide some light and shade, but overall it’s an interesting and accomplished debut which would sit happily alongside CSS or Simian Mobile Disco in your collection.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Suzanne Vega – Beauty and Crime (EMI)

This is the seventh album from Suzanne Vega, whose name has almost become synonymous with quality music, and again she doesn’t disappoint. Her distinctive voice still maintains its charming, delicate light hearted quality, and her song writing skills have never faltered. 

Beauty and Crime is a collection of songs about Suzanne’s life in New York, where she was brought up and currently lives. Each one is it’s own little anecdote about the city, such as the gentle but dark Ludlow Street, which describes how much power a single place can hold.  

New York has been the subject of many a TV show, film, and song, but Suzanne writes about the city in a way that makes it everyone’s city, through relating her personal experiences to it.  

Suzanne’s songs make the art of writing, composing and performing very simple in the way that her songs never feel forced and flow easily. I have my suspicions that in practice it’s not so simple.  

Highlights are hard to pick out in a consistently good album. The somewhat controversially titled Pornographer’s Dream has a nice jazz swing to it, and the lyrics on Edith Wharton’s Figurines require more than a second listen to get their full effect.  

The album is also a rich variety of different musical styles, from the electro drum beat driven Unbound to the classical strings in As You Are Now. 

Another superb album from Ms. Vega, but what else would you expect?

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Stateless – Stateless (!K7)

Lead singer Chris’ voice is immediately striking, sounding somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke. The influences on this album are incredibly varied, from the piano driven sounds of Coldplay, to the knob-twiddling talent of DJ Shadow, to the ethereal sounds of Muse, with a bit of Radiohead thrown in, and on a few songs, a bit of jazz and swing is detectable.  

Covering such a large musical scope, Stateless are impossible to pigeon hole, and whilst they sound unique, there is also a comfortable familiarity about their songs. Somehow you’ve heard it before, but now it sounds better. 

Some tracks, Running Out and Crash in particular, do tend to drag a little, but Stateless maintain interest throughout the album whether it be through vocal effects mixed with soaring strings, or the sudden change of direction on Down Here. 

A curiously mixed bag that requires a second glance.
www.myspace.com/statelessonline

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Via Satellite – Say The Word (DC Baby!)

There's lots to praise on Via Satellite's debut album. The punk-pop choruses are bright and bouncy, especially 'Balancing Act' courtesy of a marvellous twist in the time signature and a genuinely catchy melody. The rhythms change and build regularly and the energy rarely lets up over the eleven tracks.
 
'Give Me A Chance' deserves a particular mention for taking the hook line from Electric Six's 'Danger! High Voltage' and meshing it with verses from George Michael's 'Faith'. At least that's what it sounds like. Meanwhile 'Sorry' is a stadium-sized anthem with a big chorus and neat guitar work throughout. The token cover, Split Enz's 'I Got You', is faithful to the original and, for such a great song, blends well with the rest which is a good sign for Pete Duddles' songwriting.
 
But while Duddles may be writing catchy tunes with genuine radio potential, his vocals are a different matter. They often seem flat and distant and, in places, don't fit the music as well as they could. 'So Excited' is perhaps the worst example while the impassioned performance on 'Sorry' shows that he can do it when his range is pushed beyond the comfort zone. But his style is still likely to divide people and may stop this London four-piece from getting the attention they deserve.
 
'Say The Word' by Via Satellite is released on 15 June.
www.myspace.com/viasatelliteuk

Chris McCague

 
 

The Nextmen – This Was Supposed to be the Future (Antidote)

They say certain things can leave you “feeling cold”. Well after listening to The Nextmen I feel as cold as an Eskimo in the Arctic Circle pre-global warming. In the buff.

The title of track three, Tuffen Up, makes me cringe, and not just because I’m pedantic about spelling. Turns out the track is about someone having their heart broken, ending with some very cheesey saxophone.

The Nextman have obviously attempted to go for a “unique” sound, blending genres and the like, and granted, for many a band, this does work. However starting a track with a Brazilian carnival sound, throwing in some electronica and ending with some Spanish acoustic guitar just doesn’t work. And after a three second gap the next track is rough and ready sounding rap number. 

This was supposed to be the future eh? Well thank goodness they changed their minds.
www.myspace.com/thenextmen

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Dirtblonde - White Noise Rubber Heart 

A refreshing pile of rock’n’roll scuzz fresh from the music scene. This duo have created an image of drugged-up grimy punk rock like no other at this time. I really like this, although there are only simple distorted chords backed up with shit simple drumming its somehow effective. It relives the punk rock era with surprising ease and delicacy, mixing the sound of breaking bones and smashing faces with sophisticated glamour. The first track that stood out was probably track one, “the hangmen”, as it’s a collage of kids pissing around in an old garage with home made instruments with a hint of rage, but still brilliant enough to be performed without all the luxuries. Well worth going to see, I’d imagine.
http://www.dirtblonde.co.uk

Lid Smith

 

Amiina - ‘Kurr’ (Ever) 

I approach Amiina’s ‘Kurr’ with overwhelming puzzlement, completely lost in which direction to begin. My ignorant-Americanist preconceived notions methodically slab them into a dead-end, girl band category of some sort. My mind mindlessly produces embarrassingly assumptions of musical bigotry and sexism. I take one look at the album portrait, a modest portrayal of four young women reverently convening at a rectangular table barely big enough to accommodate their elbows whilst deferentially knitting a giant striped scarf of rusty, bold hues. I sigh heavily, “Ugh, another one of these?” I like to think I was completely lost in categorizing the quartet, but alas, there I was, striking them with judgments left and right, and what’s funny is, each and every judgment is completely wrong.

‘Kurr’ is a delicate, minimalist manifesto of tastefully subtle symphonic gestures. With a saw, harp, violin, and a whole coterie of effeminately eccentric instruments, Amiina construct meek musical soundscapes of twinkling purity. The xylophonic melody of introductory track ‘Sogg’ speaks soft sparks of fragile innocence and breathtakingly beautiful tragedy. The stunning clarity of sound simultaneously resonate the meekness of childhood and the self-awareness of maturity. Instead of sounding weak or naïve, these precious adornments, pensive and hushed, reflect the sentimentality of a sight of spring sunrays and the wide-eyed wonderment of the perhaps, nocturnal unknown. The magically playful ‘Seoul’ exudes an informal domesticity while the glacially sparse ‘Boga’ floats like a musical nursery rhyme custom-built for the cosmos, stunningly warm but mysteriously alluring.

Timely and gradual in its build, the tender colours of ‘Kurr’ articulate volumes of gorgeously cinematic statements. Except for some sparse whispers, it is almost entirely instrumental and flickers like metaphysical lullabies. With flights of sparkling otherworldliness, ‘Kurr’ will simply transport you.
www.myspace.com/amiina

www.amiina.com

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

Various - ‘Digital Northerner Volume 3’ (Fat Northerner)

As the skies of the English equivalent to the Bermuda Triangle when it comes to weather patterns, while my eastern Oxfordshire valleys launch a horde of A.D.D. climate behaviour that spins from blistering heat waves to tropical storms, the hushed acoustic wavelengths of Fat Northerner’s ‘Digital Northerner Volume 3’ might be precisely what the doctor ordered. Known for encouraging the musical inklings of the contemporary folk, soul, blues, and country arenas, number three of these download-only compilation albums, Fat Northerner sheds light on the singer-songwriters scene of the North West. 

As hoped and expected, ‘Volume 3’ is a delectably eclectic assortment of song bites that is bound to have a delight to meet everyone’s tastes. Giving way for new kids on the singer-songwriter block as well as highlighting the works of reputable artists, the fourteen tracks offer a variety of styles with that mix-tape warmth. The pop-friendly shape of Isobel Heyworth’s ‘Best Dress On’ and Aron Paul’s ‘Deadweight to Disappear’ contrasts with the stylistically adventurous timbres of Kait DeVoy’s ‘Pastel Coloured Sea,’ Liz Green’s ‘Midnight Blues’ (my personal favourite), and Frankie Teardrop’s ‘These are the Days.’ Whilst each track naturally takes full advantage of exposing the individuality and unique qualities of each spotlighted artist, the calmed textures of the collection contribute to a sense of cool and collectedness, making for a relaxed and enjoyable experience.

Rhyannon Rodriguez

 
 

Johnnie Burton – Honey & Blood

There appears to have been some kind of time warp and all of a sudden Iron Maiden are cool again. But what’s this? Instead of Bruce Dickinson behind the mic it sounds like it’s annoying teenybopper Lil Chris.  Take me home please. Apparently Nick Oliveri features of backing vocals. Clearly he’s been struggling for work since getting booted out of QOTSA if this is what he’s putting his name to nowadays. There is almost a crude feeling to these tracks, with cliched guitar parts, no bass, and simple drums. With no press release, I’m struggling to work out whether the lead singer is in fact Lil Chris, or a girl called Johnnie. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and go with a girl. If You Don’t Love Me show some promise, toning back the rawk a little for a fairly heartfelt ballad. 

Honey & Blood sounds dated, jaded, and lacks originality across the board. www.johnnieburton.com

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Santa Dog - Kittyhawk (Quince)

It's the middle of June and I'm having to deal with 10 degree temperatures, black skies and seemingly endless rain. Thank goodness I've had the sparkly summery guitar pop of Bristol's Santa Dog to see me through the last couple of weeks. Not to say Santa Dog are all goodness and light - there's an underlying bitter-sweet theme to many of these tracks which only becomes apparent when you really listen to the lyrics, and even then can lead to you creating sub-texts in your mind.

'Kittyhawk' is also a bit of a retrospective for me, having listened to each of the previous EP releases over the past couple of years. 'Belle de Jour', 'Rosa' and 'Chemical' still sound marvellous - all pristine guitars chiming through a percussion section that is seamlessly tight yet energetic. No wonder the production is of such a flawlessly high standard when you understand that guitarist Rob Williams owns the studio in which the album was recorded and mixed with the rest of the band. But the alchemic secret of this pop gold dust is surely the silken tones of singer Rowena Dugdale. Even tracks as outwardly shouty as 'Yeah Yeah Yeah' see the vocals caressed and nurtured rather than forced. It seems Rowena never needs to really stretch herself to produce an a wonderful sounding vocal track which means the music as a whole never sounds contrived or forced. In fact the whole album is a testament to a band who are clearly at ease with themselves and with one another.

My favourite track is still 'Chemical' with it's languid dark lyrics - 'I am not in control - it's the chemicals', effervescent guitar and tumultuous finale. There's a couple of tracks which I am not so fond of - 'West Coast Boy Racer' just seems to get on my nerves for some reason - maybe it's the loungey vibe or the cheesey rimshots on the drums in the first verse. But I'm not going to hold that against Santa Dog - this is a an album of which they should be very proud.
www.santa-dog.co.uk

SB

 
 

Nightingales - What's Not To Love? (Caroline True)

The first thing that struck me about this album is that it felt a bit flat, a little bit one level, with no really progression or excitement. I really felt under-whelmed and a bit disappointed really. Their sound was fine, their songs also were fine but it was just lacking an edge. They seem to have done alright for themselves having completed two U.S tours, but for me Nightingales are just a bit ordinary. That said there are certainly people out that who'll like it, just not me I'm afraid.

Gareth Ludkin

 

Black Strobe - Burn Your Own Church (Playlouder)

I can't think of many records which have divided my opinion quite so successfully as Black Strobe's 'Burn Your Own Church'. They say that genius is only a step away from madness and every so often it seems that Black Strobe stumble over this invisible line, but in the process of getting there they spark off shards of occasional musical brilliance.

It's not really possible to shove 'Burn Your Own Church' neatly into one pigeon hole as the French four-piece cross a number of musical territories during this musical journey. Firmly rooted in the brilliant camp is opener 'Brenn Di Ega Kjerke' - commencing with an insistent sonar-like bleep which builds in a rabid wall of guitar and machinated drumming. First single 'Shining Bright Star' is still the black industrial piece sp clearly the mix of Alan Moulder though the album mix is not quite as good as some of the remixes on the original single. But then...oh dear. 'Girl Next Door' is a slow lumbering dirge where Arnaud Rebotini's vocals drag worse than a sledge full of Rick Wallers. It's almost cringingly bad.

This good-bad axis crops up time and again in the record. 'Blood Shot Eyes' lurches into action after a few slovenly opening bars before exploding in a Roman Candle of kaleidoscopic synths and guitars screeches. The complex layering of the various instrumental parts is straight out of Nine Inch Nails' repertoire without ever reaching their heights due to the weaker vocals.

The nadir of the album is the current single 'I'm a Man' which may have seemed like a fun idea when they recorded it but now sounds like a horrific glam rock car crash. Fortunately this isn't the overriding impression you get from the record. There is some stompingly good double kick pedal action in 'You Should Be' and 'Buzz Buzz Buzz' escapes the uber-gothic overtones of Rebotini's vocals by being a fizzingly brief instrumental. Clearly Curve were an influence when you hear 'Last Club on Earth' with its pleasingly droning and airy guitars - very much a set closer live I would have said. But they have to spoil things with the over earnest 'Crave for Speed' - another gothic dirge to add to the bunch while the words ' life is slowing down like a dying drum machine' are churned out. What?

Inspirationally uplifting in parts and frustratingly misguided in others, I can only imagine how good an album this would have been if someone had insisted on a bit more quality control. As it stands, 'Burn Your own Church' is just an average album with some outstanding tracks.
www.blackstrobe.net

SB

 

Junior Boys - So This is Goodbye (Domino)

You know when you listen to this album that Junior Boys are very cool. There's an effortless, almost regal quality to the song writing that makes it sound like Matt and Jeremy could knock these tunes out in their sleep. The overriding emotion is one of minimal atmospherics and crystalline beauty - you would be hard pressed to find a flaw in the whole track list.

The flip side of all this purity of production? Well, am I the only one who thinks that loads of the tracks sound the same? I had to flip the CD out of the tray a couple of times to make sure I wasn't listening to 5 remixes of the same song. The reason for this sameyness? Well the smooth understated vocals remain a constant throughout and the same limited pallette of synth and laptop sounds are utilised again and again. Fortunately there are a couple of stand out tracks like 'In the Morning' which adds just a little more spice and a catchy 'do-ya' vocal throughout, even if the song does fizzle out disappointingly at the end.

Frankly by the end of the first disc I didn't have much heart left for attacking the Bonus disc of remixes by the likes of Hot Chip, Carl Craig and Morgan Geist but if you were buying this then it's definitely got to be added value. Superb chill out music for the Sunday evening of a festival when the cider has run out, the sun burn is beginning to blister and you've eaten all the Pringles but you don't quite want the weekend to end.
Watch the video to 'In the Morning'

SB

 
 

sleepgoodfeelgood - The Wake Up 

There are few more electrifying sights than Blackwood’s finest strapping on the guitars and letting fly with some tunes that’ll blow the marrow out of your bones. Yes, the Manic Street Preachers are back with a bang…what? You mean to tell me there are two bands hailing from the small valley town? Oh well, it never rains but it pours, I guess.

Forgive me for referring to the Manics at the start of another group’s review, but I won’t be the only one if sleepgoodfeelgood get anywhere in showbiz. At the start of their career, journalists who know nothing about them will inevitably make a lazy comparison for a few hundred words. And it’s really rather unfair.

sleepgoodfeelgood are as yet unsigned, but judging by their demo The Wake Up, it won’t be long, as The Beatles once sang. Eleven largely self-produced tracks hint at what this band can do given time and backing, and they make a rather pleasing, if lacking in sparkle racket.

Singer Owen Griffiths is no JDB clone; his voice is a pleasing combination of Richard Ashcroft with a purring Kelly Jones-lilt. The demo has some storming tracks, like opener ‘Spk In Code,’ and there are intricate guitar lines a-plenty. On early showing I would lump them in with the nu-Baggy scene, with a band like The Twang being a decent reference point. There are a few misfires, which is to be expected from a band not six months old, but the half-hour or so of material on offer has some good pop hooks and repeatable lyrics, and isn’t that you want from an up-and-coming live experience?

I would think about concentrating on some attention-grabbing tunes for a proper debut; what’s on show is decent but nothing stands out completely as a single. But these are opening quibbles. If they get a little tighter and a little lighter, there’s no telling what sleepgoodfeelgood can achieve. A hugely impressive album.
www.myspace.com/sleepgoodfeelgood  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Father - Inspirita (Revol/Dallas) 

Progressive Metal 5 piece, Father from the coastal town of Rijeka in Croatia (that’s Eastern Europe for those who weren’t awake in Geography Class), are a band who wear their influences on their sleeves but mixing them in a way that is quite refreshing in the current metal scene. On first listen Inspirita is quite standard metal but after a time their slow burning and dirty sounding grunge metal straight out of the Alice In Chains back catalogue can strike you with some complex and creative sounds. Techno beats and drums accompany driving riffs and hooks, showing that this is a band that have learnt their craft and know how to wield it especially in stand out track and single ‘Emon’. 

After 5 years of touring with bands including Anthrax and Madball, Father have developed and grown to a level where they have gained a cult fan base across Europe and in the UK, and with a supporting slot to Korn in their homeland coming up in early July followed by a 13 date UK tour their growth can only continue. 

Chris Sharpe

 
 

Dead man's Root - ‘Mouth Breather’ (Teraton) 

Featuring brothers Ben and Alex de la Cour, their debut album is released on their own label and proves that while they have the formula to half-decent heavy metal down, they can’t sing for shit. We’re not talking ‘so bad it’s good’, more like ‘neighbour’s teenage son’s Megadeth cover band’ style. Track 3 is the best, with plus points for a good tune but minus points for the title ‘Indie Fags Fuck Off.’

Willa C

 
 

Death Before Dishonour - 'Count Me In’ (Bridge Nine) 

It’s come to the point where I have to accept that I shouldn’t write gushing reviews about everything Bridge Nine releases, but being the best of the best independent hardcore labels it’s hard not to. Death Before Dishonour are energetic and aggressive hardcore, but would be a sweet sound to a metal fan’s ears. Produced by Jim Seigel, a man who knows his Boston hardcore, Death Before Dishonour have neatened up their act since the ‘Friends Family Forever’ EP (also on Bridge Nine) and released a new album with beatdowns and gang vocals in all the right places. It’s not for everyone, but if you like heavy, anthemic hardcore (think along the lines of Terror and Full Blown Chaos) with a little old-skool punk singalong slapped on at the end (last track ‘Still Standing’) then go check it out.

Willa C

 
 

Elena – Glimpse (Delicious)

It’s refreshing to hear a female singer/songwriter that doesn’t have the sugary sweet voice of a 12 year old, and Elena’s distinctive husky growl puts her up amongst the more mature female singer/songwriters immediately. Her song writing skills also give her a more mature edge, as the songs on Glimpse sound fully developed, well written, and have an appealing wordly, jaded edge about them.  

Luckily Elena’s gravelly voice doesn’t mean the album descents into dirty Bon Jovi, Juliette and the Licks type music, but maintains a feeling of grace, modesty and at times intense emotion (I Want You). 

The up-tempo You&Me provides a welcome break in the ballads that make up the first half of Glimpse. It’s also a chance to showcase the talent of Elena’s band, who come into their own on this track. It is slightly ruined by inclusion of that wonderfully clichéd phrase of “wake up and smell the coffee” though.  

Coffee Song has an almost psychedelic feel to it, with a guitar doing a fairly good job of imitating a sitar, and Elena’s voice is perfect for the retro nature of the song. 

 Sleepless Underground begins with a beautiful piano sound but sadly it’s for the introduction only, and the track turns into much of what has gone before it. 

Towards the end of the album Elena’s voice does begin to grate a little, and the lack of variety in songs does make an entire album a bit of a stretch. A talent best served in small doses.
www.myspace.com/elenamusic

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Scarlet Blonde – Bedroom Superstars (Hypermedia)

If you can wait out the 50 or so seconds of general unpleasant noise that constitutes the first track, apparently called Swirl, track two does actually feature some music.  

I think this is supposed to be one of those “fun” albums, the ones you put on at parties when everyone’s had so much to drink they’re not bothered about looking cool anymore and just want to dance like no one’s watching. I imagine Bedroom Superstars would be pretty perfect for that. And dancing in your bedroom in front of the mirror avec hairbrush, obviously.  

So with such credentials it’s rather unsurprising that musically, Scarlet Blonde have fairly little going for them. The lead singer sounds like an older Sugababe- nice voice but not much substance behind it – unlike more talented pop singer such as Kylie – a pop voice, but more than just I Should Be So Lucky. Sadly Scarlet Blonde cannot say the same for themselves, and the result is a one dimensional one trick album.   

The beginning of Electric sounds like, to put it politely, a bottom burp, a delightful noise which is present for the rest of the track.  

The days of Spice Girls pop is well and truly over, and it seems some people would do well do remember that. Nowadays we want quirkiness and catchiness in our pop music, and Scarlet Blonde don’t deliver either. 

A blast from the past, yes, but hopefully one the alcohol will make you forget.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Pepe Deluxe – Spare Time Machine (Catskills Records)

Deluxe with only one ‘x’ eh? Disappointing. Good job the cracking album makes for it.  

DJ + computers + the odd instrument = for once, finally, some good music! This is the music thousands aspire to, yet very few achieve. From the gloriously syncopated rhythm and Beatles sound on Ms Wilhelmina and her Hat to the gospel vocals of Go For Blue, this album is truly a display of how it’s done, and how brilliant it sounds when its done properly. 

It’s experimental, yes, but not so experimental that there’s nothing salvageable from it that actually sounds like music. It’s got guitar solos, rolling drums, Casio keyboard noises, chorus vocals, weird squelchy noises, grunts and a wonderfully illustrated sleeve and brilliant song titles (Lucky The Blind Vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster, anyone?) 

Spare Time Machine also maintains a brilliant retro sound throughout, which is ironic against the backdrop of computer created music.

It sounds strange, it is strange, but then they say all geniuses are a little crazy. www.myspace.com/pepedeluxe

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Rocket Uppercut – This Beautiful Tragedy – Filthy Little Angels 

Oh Bavaria, clean air, strong beer, lederhosen and men with huge ‘taches. The rural Germanic idyll of forests and crystal lakes, not a hotbed of youthful rebellion, or rebellion at all; just clear-eyed farmers daughters charming ruddy faced tractor boys who whistle old Franconian folk songs. 

Not so, of course. Modern times dictate that the members of Rocket Uppercut could well have spent their youths downloading the sounds coming out of Detroit, Sheffield and New York, rather than working their way through mum and dad’s um-pa collection. In fact there’s not a trace of anything Germanic here at all. 

The band are basically a straight up two-and-a-half-minutes-per-song pop punk outfit. They thrash out neat riffs and compact harmonies not too dissimilar to the Hives, except that they have a female vocalist. My personal opinion is that a female singer should be a blessing; they look better, sound better, dance better, but here, as so often, (and it’s something that has always annoyed and bewildered me) the band themselves provide little musical depth and it’s up to the lady up front to provide all the contrast, colour and tone. 

Bianca Halsbeck’s voice is fortunately able to do so. She sounds like an adulteration of Karen O and Debby Harry, flitting between a hint of NYC and a splash of NW1, nothing wrong with that, and there’s plenty of versatility, but what’s wrong with singing in your own accent?  It certainly worked for Nico, and lifted her above the average. 

Guitarist Kevin Ippsich is at his best when he’s chopping out thick lines of Jack White-esque filthy blues fills on Cinderalla, which is a probably the best track on here. The staccato vocals lift it above the other offerings and provide a glimpse of the undoubted potential. 

The main problem for Rocket Uppercut is standing out from literally hundreds of bands that sound quite similar. The main problem being that the album is too long, by about four or five tracks. I’m certain that there’s a quality EP lurking in there, but, moments like Cinderella and the equally excellent Choices are interspersed with too many bad ideas, like grindcore vocals over a weak riff, or wasting a Hammond organ so low down in the mix that it becomes inconsequential.  A band to keep an eye on, but I can’t recommend the album.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Hyperbubble – Airbrushed Alibis – Filthy Little Angels 

The first lyric I caught from this record was ‘you’re getting on my nerves’ from second song Nervous System. An unfortunate choice of words, since the band play a camp brand of lo-fidelity electro synth-pop which can be irritating, infuriating, hilarious and inspired, and all in about a 30 second time frame. Hyperbubble just about keep the candy coloured keyboard loops in check often enough to avoid truly grating. Instead, there’s an anodyne edge to most of the records, up tempo, tight and sparklingly clean. 

Much like a Kwik Save vegetable section, there’s nothing organic here. Its all geeky and electronic, but never in a pretentious way. Fortunately the polished pop of Rollerblade Babydoll and the opening six tracks give way to a darker edge from Reversible onwards. Following on from Reversible, Commuter attacks the listener with stabby syths and the perfect Germanic accented accompaniment from vocalist Jess. 

Non Biodegradable Waste Disposal ups the intensity again and could have been the perfect musical accompaniment to the dark scenes from Barbarella, the vocals fit the tempo and the pure Kraftwerk synths perfectly. 

I wouldn’t expect this record to appeal to everyone, but fans of Ladytron, synth-pop and retro-futurists everywhere should love it.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Music… not the Machine – A Hackpen Label Sampler – Hackpen 

Wielding my own hack-pen and dissecting this collection, I would advise you to do one thing. Ask the label for a copy. I could make this easy on you. I could describe the music, you could decide whether it’s worth a punt and I could provide the details for you. 

That way, you could with minimal effort, get your lovely greasy mitts on some free music, with a proper case and everything. 

Or, I could make it more difficult, put the ball in your court. Not review the record, at least not beyond very basic details and let you make your mind up.

Instead, I’m going to fall between two stools here. This review has taken me past the first track, which warmly cascaded over me and said something in hushed stretched out tones about the sky falling in over an expansive riff with plenty of fuzz. Right now, I’m listening to a beautiful voice, not unlike Robert Burns, with as much spine tingling emotion and thick Scottish blur describing something like passion and possession. Wonderful stuff, all Scottish and all probably undiscovered by most of you. 

Your choice, really. Those last two were the Nyquist and Mouse eat Mouse, and the rest of it, well like I said, that’s up to you whether you want to make the effort.  Obtain a free copy from them at www.hackpenrecords.com

Ian Anderson

 
 

Flagellation – Incinerate Disintegrate (Last Entertainment Productions)

Technical death metal with keyboards? Hell yeah! First off, this 6 track EP offering from Sweden's Flagellation shouldn't sound original. All the standard elements are present, and upon first listen this could be any of 50 different bands. But for some reason, it sounds completely fresh. 'Rending the Apocalypse' opens the EP with an eerie keyboard-laden intro whose menacing drums set the mood of the EP perfectly. Suddenly 'Chaos in the Flesh' kicks in with a combination of furious head-banging riffs and blast beats, and I'm instantly hooked. Flagellation seem to effortlessly combine conventions from various metal sub-genres to create some kind of super-being in a melting pot of technical drumming, lightning fast guitar playing and the constant presence of keyboards in the background. And it works. Pretty damn well. With his defining vocal growls, front man Per Lindstrom dominates at all the right moments to give the songs that extra level of prominence. 'Threshold to Madness' is the standout track for me, with its frenetic riffing and operatic chorus making it the centerpiece of the EP. 'Purified by Fire' introduces some melodic vocals into the mix, adding yet another element to Flagellation's seemingly endless amalgamation of metal. While metal-as-fuck title track 'Incinerate Disintegrate' fades out to an acoustic guitar and the short guitar/keyboard outro concludes the EP, I find myself grinning manically while considering just what this band will be able to accomplish in the future. Evidently influenced by many bands of different genres, I can hear hints of Emperor, Zyklon, Strapping Young Lad, Nevermore and even Morbid Angel in their music, yet the influence is very subtle on all counts. Not necessarily groundbreaking or unique, but Flagellation have certainly created their own trademark sound and I fully expect them to grow into an entity worthy of playing festival main stages. Well one thing is guaranteed, when I arrive at Wacken this year, this will be proudly blasting out of my car stereo. Fantastic.
www.flagellation.net
www.myspace.com/flagellationswe

Jimmy P

 
 

Larsen B - The Treasured Memories of Cecil Element 

Larsen B don’t do loud. Larsen B don’t do angry. Larsen B don’t do rock yer nads off, but if they did, they’d probably be very quiet about it. A three-piece from London, the group have a six track mini-album on offer to your general punter, a concept album if you will, about those forgotten childhood days of innocence, playing out in fields until nightfall and when chicken really used to taste like chicken.

Truth to tell, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. The songs are nice enough, but as Sean Connery helpfully pointed out in ‘The Rock,’ that doesn’t get the prom queen’s kecks off. Good musicians, nice for background music, but nothing more than that I’m afraid. This album cries out for something catchy to take your mood, and maybe, just maybe, by the time Larsen B release a full album, they’ll have realised that.
www.myspace.com/wearelarsenb  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Machinery – Degeneration (Last Entertainment Productions)

I was looking forward to hearing what Machinery have to offer, as the name, not to mention the logo, hints of modern Euro metal fused with electronic samples, which I have a guilty soft spot for. Which is why I was so surprised to hear Nevermore coming through the speakers after the electronic intro of 'Salvation For Sale'. Not a bad thing, but not a particularly good thing either, which (initially) summed up Machinery for me in a sentence. Whereas bands like Mercenary take their influences and create a very unique stamp on the metal world, Machinery seem content to sound exactly like Nevermore. At least that was my assessment after a single spin of 'Degeneration'. There is, fortunately, a lot more to Machinery than meets the eye. The album really opened up on the second listen, which leaves me feeling glad I gave it another chance. For starters there's that definite 'European sound' that gives Machinery the edge that a band like this really need; atmosphere, genuine passion, and of course the instinct to play metal that seems to come as naturally to some as it does to a wolf chasing a lamb. There is no question about it; these guys were born to play metal. As if to cement my thoughts, it turns out that Flagellation's Per Lindstrom takes up bass duties here, and said band's keyboardist Fredrik Klingwall is also on board to add the always-welcomed atmospherics. The previously mentioned opener 'Salvation For Sale' is a standout song with a strong chorus and riffs-a-plenty, as is 'River Red' with its catchier-than-thou vocal melody. 'Blacker Than Pain' is a vicious whirlwind of scathing metal; just the kind of song that would have me jumping into the moshpit without a second thought. The chorus here is the eye of the storm, slowing the pace down for yet another catchy chorus and some good old head banging. 'Falling Through the Grid' would make it onto any home-made compilation of mine were it not eight minutes long! Not that I begrudge it its lengthiness; any song that can last the best part of ten minutes while constantly keeping the listener interested deserves an honourable mention. Closer 'Satanic Hippy Cannibal' has to one of the most genius song titles ever, and closes the album with a hint of Evergrey-style melancholy and a punch that leaves you wanting to get back into the ring. Perhaps not a perfect album, but the highlights definitely outweigh the more average moments. With a bit of fine tuning, I think Machinery will find even more of their personal identity, and become a force to be reckoned with.
www.machinery.se
www.myspace.com/machineryswe

Jimmy P

 
 

Puck - Beyond Reason 

Five piece Puck are making themselves a bit of a racket in Old London town, and it’s not bad. They’re as outstanding a bunch of musicians that I’ve heard in a long time, but sometimes that’s just not enough. I’ve heard a lot of great musicians in the reviewing game, but that doesn’t mean I’d offer myself as a ritual sacrifice just to satisfy their sordid whims.

There are seven tracks on ‘Beyond Reason,’ all much of a muchness. There are some definite flashes of a talent for tunesmithery (if that’s a proper word; if not, I’ve just copyrighted it) but none of the set makes a break for the open. ‘Masquerade’ and ‘No Shame’ are pretty rockin’, but I have to admit, and I didn’t want to, that the most potent weapon in Puck’s arsenal is singer Amy Jay. Looking past her obvious physical attributes, she’s got a great voice and it’s probably a bit special in a live setting.

But Puck seem to be doomed to tread the live venues of the south-east without a rapid reassessment of their material. They could be headliners given a standout tune, but as it stands they’ll always be the bridesmaid and never the bride.
www.myspace.com/puckrock
www.puckmusic.com  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Subcyde – Subcyde (Last Entertainment Productions) 

With a name like Subcyde, I was expecting more of a 'dated-nu-metal-meets-hip-hop' abomination. Luckily I was mistaken. The record label's cringe-worthy tagline doesn't exactly help their cause mind you... "Subcyde will hit you like a powersmash!" sounds more like an advertisement for a cheap European brand of potato mix than a selling point for a heavy metal band. The groovier side of the music, such as ballsy opener 'Knives in the Dark' or (wait for it) 'Power Smash', is unmistakably reminiscent of a heavier Pantera, a comparison fuelled even more by lyrics such as, "you better grow some balls, boy!" which sounds like a Phil Anselmo diatribe if I ever heard one. Certainly better when they're playing faster, tracks like ‘War Infected’ or 'Testament' (yep, it sounds like Testament) are great examples of balls out thrash metal done well. Sadly, they rarely keep the speed up throughout the course of the album and seem happy to maintain their more mid-paced, Pantera-esque persona. Not necessarily a criticism, although their faster material is definitely stronger, and gives them more of an air of individuality.

This is straight out 90s-era metal, reminiscent of Pantera, Machine Head, Skinlab, Sepultura and Testament during that period. I grew up listening to those bands so it’s great to still hear this kind of music still being made; if they’d supported any of the aforementioned bands in the 90s, this lot would have been huge. The music is tight, the drums are crushing, and the riffs are fucking colossal. Throw in some quality solos for good measure, and there’s your winning formula. In fact, by the time ‘Sentence is Death’ comes blasting through the speakers, I’m pretty much sold. Writing a review and headbanging at the same time isn’t easy, trust me. No, it's not original. But at the end of the day, Subcyde are metal as fuck, so who gives a damn. Although perhaps it's time for a name change eh lads?
www.subcyde.com
www.myspace.com/subcyde

Jimmy P

 
 

Sketches for Albinos - Red 

Like great Scottish football teams, or members of the Royal Family you can actually tolerate, the number of great musicians to come from Iceland can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There’s Bjork, obviously, and much of Sigur Ros’ output, and I think Damon Albarn did something about geysers once, though that may have been ‘Parklife.’ Add to that Sketches for Albinos.

In actual fact, Matthew Collings, for it is he and he alone who comes up with the cold musical landscape of ‘Red,’ is not an Icelandic native but moved there to create something beautiful. He succeeded in spades, and there’s not a lot to fault about the tunes on ‘Red’ IF you like mood pieces, minimal guitar and percussion and the material to create stark images in your own imagination. If you like shouting along to My Chemical Romance, then you’re not only wasting the gift of being able to hear but you’ll also miss the point of ‘Red.’

Collings is an intelligent man who is creating something different and deep. The landscape of his adopted country is obviously extremely fertile as far as creating music goes. Sketches for Albinos offer a more-chilled out Sigur Ros vibe, if that’s possible, and it’s ace. Praise indeed from someone who prefers Asda.
www.myspace.com/sketchesforalbinos  

Chris Stanley

 
 

ZallaNayver - Searching for Random 

While I was searching randomly one day, I met a man with seven wives…I’ll leave the clever and timeless riddles to the experts, I think. Sorry, bad opening, but I don’t think I’ll start again. It would be a waste of time, but as long as the soundtrack included at least one track by these guys, I’d be quite happy. Some five years in the conception, ZallaNayver use loops and gloops and a bit of guitar to underpin a moody, atmospheric soundscape. It’s cool, and that in itself is enough to satisfy.

In recent times, there has been a re-appropriation of rave culture into the idie firmament, but ZallaNayver veer off from that somewhat. Their tunes and use of soul vocals and samples recall classic Massive Attack, but they offer so much more. In fact, they could be pioneers of a scene I’m calling ‘techno-soul.’ It’ll catch on, promise. There are enough squelchy 303 synth patterns to make the most monged acid-casualty sit up and take notice. Check out the album, ‘cos it’s worth it.
www.myspace.com/zallanayver
www.zallanayver.com  

Chris Stanley