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  albums - july 2007

 

 

Mea Culpa - ‘First To Ripen’ (Sugar Shack) 

Progressive is always a dangerous word to use, especially with every other band citing Botch as a major influence. But it’s one of the only words you could use to describe the opening of Mea Culpa’s debut album First To Ripen. It’s tricky using quiet vocals, but it works within the first track, 7-minute ‘Pheromones’ which has an epic instrumental feel to it alone. ‘Today, a Rut’ brings in the catchy riffs, while ‘Effort’ and title track ‘First To Ripen’ are heavy. An intellectual soundscape of a CD, avoid it if you have a short attention span but give it a good listen if you like musical layering and complicated guitarwork and concepts.

Willa C

 

Akira the Don & Wade Crescent – ‘Stunners 130’ (Something in Construction) 

That blonde locked remix master Akira The Don returns with his “evil apprentice” Wade Crescent in tow and his signature talent for mashing up tracks from all angles, mixed with a good dose of tongue in far left cheek humor. 

An hour-long mix tape of dance and hip-hop based grooves with anything from one to four pieces of other tracks rammed in – perfect for a time old game of name that sample at very least! 

The kind of album you could whack on at a party, pretend your actually doing something behind the decks and all and sundry will think thee a superstar dj! Result! 

The Don’s cleverly humorous little links are what make this differ from your Too Many DJs school of mix tape thought and pushes it more over into the Dj Yoda camp. Ideas like playing the “just a band” section of Dan LeSac and Scroobious Pip’s ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ and inserting a snippet of each band when listed. Or vocal samples from Borat and the Hoff, genius! 

A wildly varied mix of tunes used, from Daft Punk to Hendrix, Soul 2 Soul, Klaxons, Ludacris and Muse – and not much missed in between! 

The perfect soundtrack to any block rocking house party and a mix tape that delivers everything you want in a mix tape, and it doesn’t half give the Soulwax boys a run for their money. Pump upth t’volume lads! 
8/10
www.myspace.com/akirathedon

Martin Kendrick

 
 

Ruiner - ‘Prepare To Be Let Down’ (Bridge Nine) 

For people who do have musical ADD, as well as ‘issues’, then Ruiner’s new album is for you. With each song being around a minute and a half long, if there was one way to describe vocalist Rob Sullivan it would be: pissed off. And it shows in songs like ‘Bottom Line: Fuck You’ and ‘Kiss That Motherfucker Goodnight’. Hailing from Baltimore, Ruiner face up to that age-old hardcore question: what do middle-class Suburban white boys have to be so upset over? Not only do they answer the question, but they sonically break the jaw of the person asking it in with lyrics like ‘And what the fuck do I know? Just some awkward kid from a shitty town/ I’m inspired by the fact that I still get out of bed’. This album is not about youth crews or straightedge pride, it’s about break-ups and dissatisfaction with what’s average. Which is not this album. It’s raw and bitter with a heavy bassline, and like Sullivan screams ‘a way with fucking words.’ Keep an eye out for Ruiner’s European tour this autumn.

Willa C

 
 

The Sailplanes – ‘A Second or Ten Years Later’ (Redheaded Stepchild) 

London art rock three piece The Sailplanes latest conjuring is one of those records that’s a slow burner in the wrong direction. Every time you listen to it, it just seems to get worse. 

Like one of those random support bands you see at some small club night and you can’t quite make up your mind at first if their either post modern and strangely brilliant – or just plain crap. Unfortunately, The Sailplanes would fall under the latter when you sober up and come to a decision. 

The guitars thrash out clichéd post punk, Joy Division jangles of random notes and fuzz noise – but played badly. The only saving grace for Tim Webster and Stacey Hine’s guitar playing is that it isn’t as awkwardly bad as Yola Rodowicz’s stiff, uptight drumming. This flaw clearly isn’t apparent to them as they regularly meander off into pointless, self-indulgent little instrumental sections that take you nowhere but the skip button. 

Lyrically and vocally The Sailplanes make even less sense. Vocal duties are spilt between Webster, who has an uncontrollable urge to screech like Vivian from the Young Ones at every possible opportunity. And Hine whose vocals are at least listenable, and give the songs a slither of respectability. However this can’t hide the ridiculousness of the ‘oh look at me I’m so poetic’ lyrics. They fail to make the blindest bit of sense and just come out like lists of chaotic bizarreness, “taste my life in new indifference, like a wolf in the forest but new to the rain, taste my life in a bitter toxicity running through my veins, running through this city”, sorry but what in the name of holy fuck is that supposed to mean!?

To be quite honest, I’m still trying to decide if this album is just some kind of joke. It’s the alt rock equivalent of those nutters who go on the first part of stuff like x-factor, and you sit there thinking “surely they can’t actually think this is any good - can they?” 

Pointless, painful and nonsensical. Art rock but totally lacking anything that could even resemble art. 2/10
www.myspace.com/thesailplanes

Martin Kendrick

 
 

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Don't You Fake It

"Don't You Fake It" is your classic emo-pop-punk album. There're some chunky riffs, a bit of screaming, some great harmonies, a smattering of nice singalong lyrics and the obligatory moving ballad or two. The problem is that they don't really have a defining element to their sound, this could quite easily be an album from any number of american bands of this ilk.

Having said that, this is an album executed to a very high standard. It's a billion times better than the likes of Hawthorne Heights, and the screamo parts actually compliment the main vocals without stepping on any toes. As for the singer Ronnie Winter, there's no doubt at all that this guy can sing and he seems comfortable moving through a wide range over the course of the record.

As I said, the main problem is that there's very little here that makes them stand out from the crowd. "Seventeen Ain't So Sweet" sounds a bit like Fall Out Boy, "Waiting" sounds a wee bit like Hoobastank, "Grim Goodbye" sounds like Finch song ... you get the idea. There are some gems on this album though, the opening track "In Fate's Hands" and "Atrophy" both grab the attention. As does the single "Face Down" with a slightly darker edge to the lyrics that contrasts with the poppy guitar riff in the chorus. For me though the real stand-out track on the album is "Justify".

As a debut this album is a pretty solid one, although maybe trying a bit too hard to cover all bases. I think the progression of the band might be better edging away from the pop-punk stuff and more towards a post-hardcore sound, but either way as a debut album this holds a good deal of promise for the future.
www.redjumpsuit.com

James Stewart

 
 

Taumsauk - s/t Mini Album (Taumsauk) 

Taumsauk hail from Chicago, and like Tortoise offer a quirky take on Electronica.

Didman strays into Isan territory with some low key reverberation that builds nicely. Atmosphere is the key here, and all the way through this set. Brit-tronica act Appliance also cast a shadow over proceedings, whilst Stack Cats (great title) cooks up an avalanche of drums and well considered guitar. I don’t know how it is, but the EP almost conjures a digitalised vision of how the Canterbury UK scene may have been if Kevin Ayres and Robert Wyatt had been playing with software in 1971. Swathes of tronics lend a psychedelic edge at times, with Funny Games almost out boarding the BOC. (Not Blue Oyster Cult, Boards of Canada) Mike and Eric have crafted and listenable feel that bears repeated plays and closer inspection here. Just check it out.

John Kertland

 
 

Edwards Way - Lonely and Confused (Derotten) 

Edwards come on all Green Day at the start with a righteous and strident sound that rips up the speakers. By track 4, Get Out Of My Car, they have gone all Clash on us with a “What’s My Name” a-like blast of punk rock. Like staring into a black hole of what has gone before, there are reference points spread all across this release. On Dead Doll the band take a dynamic cue from the Mars Volta, lyrics indignant with failure and regret.

In less than two years of their existence the band have crafted a set of tunes and a sound that bites. A minor complaint would be that their sound needs a little more lyrical clarity at times.  Energetic, raw and relevant, pick this up if you have the opportunity.

John Kertland

 
 

Buffalo ‘77 - Clearer Than the Grey (Bertie) 

Buffalo are a UK trio who have picked up some interest along the way recently. Praise being thown towards the band by Steve Lamaqc of BBC Radio amongst others. On this debut release they display a collective maturity that beggars the fact that they have been playing together for only 12 months. Veering towards Coldplay-ismin parts (not always a bad thing), the album has a radio friendly demeanor at all times. Happiness and Good Intentions takes a Razorlight like ballad and crafts things nicely in a lyrical sense. James Leighton’s sparing and sharp wordsmithery is a constant. All in all a band that are more than the sum of their parts, with an ear for a well crafted tune. I suggest that we’re about due to hear much more of them.

John Kertland

 
 

Make It Better Later - Music By Numbers 

A lot of bands wear their humour on their sleeve, but usually they have one novelty record and then they bog off. That’s why it’s better they release one single for Comic Relief and not an entire album. Music making for most people is a serious business, and we don’t want to see it wasted by some flaky comedian looking for their fifteen minutes.

Make It Better Later don’t give a flying cack about any of that. They know their job is to entertain, and their philosophy is, why not make people laugh out loud too? And they achieve this aim. Even someone with finely-tuned comedy sensibilities like me (I own all the Blackadders on video) pissed myself when listening to most of the tracks, especially ‘Eric’, an ode to Cartman from South Park, complete with actual footage from the show. Whereas most observational bands make you nod your head and scratch your chin, Make It Better Later aim for the short, sharp pratfall.

You do wonder after five or six songs whether this isn’t some giant joke or not, but for the duration of the album it doesn’t matter. Crap nights in pubs, songs about ninjas and equating George Bush to a pirate on closing sea-shanty ‘The Pirate Song’ are great – not floor fillers, more like a comedy gig. I would say catch them live, and have a laugh, but the York four-piece are probably such jokers that they won’t turn up to the gig. Baffling, but laughably so.
www.myspace.com/makeitbetterlater  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Social Distortion - Greatest Hits 

In this, the second consecutive anniversary of ‘proper’ punk music, we’ve been told we must appreciate those also-rans that played alongside The Clash, the Pistols and The Ramones, as if music ought to thank them. But let’s be honest, does anyone appreciate 999, The Lurkers, or The Stinky Toys. Mostly, if you haven’t heard of a punk ‘pioneer,’ it’s for a good reason.

Social Distortion are a punk combo hailing from the west coast, Orange County to be precise, where things were a little more hardcore and Minor Threat ruled the day. This career retrospective celebrates their additions to the canon, and it’s a mighty fine collection too. Most famously, they sang ‘Mommy’s Little Monster,’ a kind of punk ‘Rebel Rebel’ that celebrated flicking the v’s at your folks. There are many more like it on the album, but aside from an inspired cover of ‘Ring Of Fire,’ reminiscent of Joey Ramone’s version of ‘What A Wonderful World’, they’re much of a muchness – straight ahead, head down punk thrash.

Surprisingly, time has treated Social Distortion’s work well, and it’s a must for those who hate pop-punk like Greenday, and hanker after the real thing. Now, if only they’d bothered to cross the street and told those kids who would become The Offspring to shut the noise, we’d be a lot more grateful.
www.socialdistortion.com
www.myspace.com/socialdistortion  

Chris Stanley

 
 

The Juice - Blood For Water 

Too many cooks spoil the broth, we’re told, but hat if you’re making one humongous pot of broth? Even if some sayings don’t apply in every situation, it’s usually the case in music circles that if you have a more fluid line-up than you ought to, the end result turns out to be pants. The Juice have apparently been through more members than Paris Hilton, so it doesn’t bode well for their debut.

But stop right there. ‘Blood For Water’, though heavily overdrawn in the bank of rock (those Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More riffs don’t come cheap, you know) is a glorious throwback to the days of heavy tunes and big voices. We’re talking major eardrum shattering. The ace in the pack, which The Juice well know, is current singer and lyricist Jay Serrao. Simply put, he’s a major talent to have on their side; his bombastic voice spiralling around the riffs makes this debut one of 2007’s more impressive debut. No dingy basement clubs for them – they’re aiming for arenas.

Okay, so there are a few lyrics that veer closely to the Spinal Tap precipice, and eight cuts of hard rock haven’t really dented the album charts since Phil Lynott walked among us, but there’s enough here to show that if alternative music fans turned their heads away from smart-ass social commentary for a second, they might find the album Audioslave ought to have released instead of poncing around wondering what the hell Chris Cornell was on about. Watch this band, both literally and figuratively.
www.iwantjuice.com
www.myspace.com/iwantjuice  

Chris Stanley 

 
 

CHERRY GHOST – ‘Thirst for Romance’ (Heavenly) 

Having read the NME’s review of this fairly highly anticipated debut album the other day, it gave me food for thought. You see they came down pretty heavily on the Manchester five piece for writing an album, while musically very enjoyable, lyrically morbid and gloomy, and they basically just told them to lighten up. At first I wondered if they had a point. That writing depressing lyrics isn’t going to win many fans and will probably just irritate the greater majority (this isn’t emo were talking about remember, that’s the whole point then!) But this isn’t always the case. The thing with the bands that are annoyingly depressing, like your Travis’s, Keane’s, Starsailor’s and the like, is that they do it coupled with dreary, miserable melodies and push you over the edge. The key is to juxtapose the lyrics over well constructed, easy on the ear tunes, either uplifting or moving (or preferably both.) This is, of course, what The Smiths did so well, telling pessimistic unfortunate tales over joyous pop uppers, and what a fabulous combination that was! 

Musically Cherry Ghost are faultlessly beautiful. On ‘People Help the People’ and, for me, the stand out track on the album ‘Dead Man’s Suit’, what so easily could have been a party crashing, sad bastard moan, becomes a glorious poetic encounter of downtrodden man. An outcry for life at the dead end of a wrong turn, or the cry for help from the outcasts of society. Lyrically it does what it needs to perfectly “God knows what is hiding in those weak and sunken eyes, a fiery throng of muted angels giving love and getting nothing back”. You empathize with the subject of the song rather than feeling like telling them to stop bloody winging. 

Sonically Cherry Ghost are euphoric with accentuating piano and profound cymbal crashing, subdued with mellow country folk guitars and banjo, but always heart capturing with nail head hittingly perfect melodies framing the beautifully written lyrics. Rarely failing to provoke thought as much as emotion. 

Simon Aldred’s Laurel Canyon deep vocal talents get the message across. Delicately sidestepping the droning and keep both feet firmly in the Neil Young, ear pricking storyteller folkist camp. 

‘Thirst for Romance’ isn’t necessarily going to cheer you up, but it’s going to make you think, feel, dream and maybe even cry. But, after all said and done, isn’t that exactly what music is supposed to do? 9/10
www.myspace.com/cherryghostband

Martin Kendrick

 
 

RAIRBIRDS – ‘Rairbirds1’ (One Little Indian) 

Rairbirds have been flying along under the radar of many a finger on many a pulse for several years now. Slowly plotting and polishing their plans for pioneering the future of breaks, big-beat and truly organic, soul filled dance music. 

‘Rairbirds1’ is a master class in showcasing just how profound and beautiful dance music can be. How wide ranging a plethora of things that can be incorporated into it. They use trumpets, clarinets, congas and trombones to add thick layers and hidden bursts of amazement and atmospherics akin to a film score effect. Without all this however, down to the bare bones of samples and pounding programmed beats, they can reach Chemical Bros and Okenfold heights of thumping electronica genius, then strip it back like an Ibiza pool party dress code to just strings and smooth vocal stylings. 

They like to wrack up the musical airmiles by exploring as many possibilities as then can through the album. ‘Tigerag’ is 1920’s swing jazz with a Basement Jaxx House backdrop and a Charlie Chaplin interlude. ‘Calling’ goes way down the trip-hop tempo scale and ‘Lo 2 Hi’ is just straight up acoustic rock – not a computer in sight until final moments. 

If Marco Polo was alive today and decided to become a dance producer, he’d most likely make albums like this. Rairbirds push the well-traveled envelope of electronic music to test the boundaries of the genre whenever possible, while always staying true to the backbone of the funk, the groove and making a dancefloor move. 9/10
www.myspace.com/rairbirds

Martin Kendrick

 
 

No Age – ‘Weirdo Rippers’ (Fat Cat) 

'Weirdo Rippers' is a curious beast of an album. Featuring ex members of the art-punk outfit Wives, No Age combine trashy pop-punk and guitar noise in strange and unexpected ways. The albums opens with 'Every Artist Needs a Tragedy', which begins as a fuzzy guitar soundscape in the vein of My Bloody Valentine or Fennesz but then develops into a grunge pop song which is strongly reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. The next track 'Boy Void' is a galloping garage punk number, with strong pop sensibilities combined with flourishes of discordant noise. The album continues in this eclectic fashion, from the queasy drone-scape of 'Sunspots' to the Ramones-esque punk of 'My Life's Alright Without You', then closing with the psychedelic guitar noise of 'Escarpment'. It swings from gentle ambience to wild noise, stopping on the way for some incredibly catchy punk melodies.The different styles that No Age incorporate are not in themselves terribly innovative, but what makes this album exciting is the way the elements of 'Weirdo Rippers' (the white noise, ambient fuzz and trashy punk) are all tied together by a strong pop sensibility. It's akin to listening to an album by the Ramones or the Gories through a broken radio.

Michael Pearson

 
 

Aa - 'gAame' (Gigantic Music) 

Aa (pronounced 'Big A Little A' apparently) sound like they're having a whole heap of fun. Frenzied tribal drumming is combined with yelped vocals and all manner of strange background noises that I couldn't begin to speculate the sources of. In terms of the multiple drummers (three to be precise, and one maraca player) gAame reminds me of the hectic punk-funk of the Black Eyes. However Aa cover a great deal more musical ground than this comparison suggests, various genres are touched upon but filtered through their noise rock aesthetic. As noisy as it is danceable, 'gAame' manages to sound both terrifying and euphoric at the same time, which is quite an achievement. 

Michael Pearson

 
 

The Shaker Heights – Magna Doors 

The Shaker Heights are Britain’s latest post bloc party indie band; they have musical talent, a singer who can actually sing, and beautiful lyrics with wonderful guitar solos. This album has many virtues, and listening to it, it is as though, in some romantic way, the band have released this album as a way of expressing their feelings rather than solely to be big stars and I think the music world could benefit from more of this ego-friendly attitude. The album has an intoxicating format of starting off relaxed jumping up in the centre and then winding back down for Words To The Open a wonderful guitar and strings song which will make you want to switch right back to track 1 and listen to the entire album again. And who could blame you?

Brad Bailey

 
 

The Thrills – Teenager 

In many ways The Thrills’ are the musical equivalent to Marmite, with Conor Deasy’s beautiful yet monotonous vocal and their catchy piano jingles. I won’t lie, some days I have stared into the settling dusk and needed to hear Big Sur, just needed and this album is full of great songs, Nothing Changes Around Here, for example, is another classic Thrills song that will probably be part of their live performances for the rest of their career. The problem with this album is that any of these songs could have easily have been placed on any of their previous two albums, which works fine for the many marmite lovers out there but runs the risk of being an addition to many people’s Thrills collection rather than the start of a new one. Teenager contains the very essence of an August afternoon with a nice glass of blackcurrant.
www.thethrills.com

Brad Bailey

 

Fountains of Wayne - Traffic and Weather (Virgin) 

Its sometimes hard to justify liking Fountains of Wayne. Like getting excited about the Spice Girls or stealth masturbation, they're something you should probably have grown out of in your teens. If you've ever heard a FoW album before you know what to expect; tune after tune rolled off like they've been locked in a room with an industrial-sized bag of sugar and Cheap Trick's greatest hits.

'Someone to Love' takes the sort of 3 chord pop song they could probably write in their sleep by now, and grafts a four-to-the-floor disco beat on, (Hell, it worked for the Killers)  while 'Fire in the Canyon' is a straight-faced, irony-free country song, that says, 'yes, we like John Denver, want to make something of it?' While the stream of pop-culture references (Coldplay, King of Queens, GPS etc) start to sound a little too pleased with themselves after a while, you have to admire the chutzpah of anyone who rhymes 'prostate' with 'real estate'.
www.myspace.com/fountainsofwayne

Andy Glynn

 
 

Broken Dolls - Broken Dolls - Southern Fried 

Firstly, a rant; about bandwagons and awful press releases. I’m all for bandwagons, they can be the catalyst for making groundbreaking music. Enticing kids to pick up instruments, encouraging people to get off their arses and go to gigs and inspiring critics to sharpen their pens. Recently, the Klaxons have created (or the media have created for them) a lightweight, snidely derided bandwagon which we all know the name of. I despise the name, but that’s just because it’s a half-hearted term that conjures up bad memories of ‘nu metal’.  Lazy promoters and hacks have lumped any new band who aren’t the Pigeon Detectives onto the bandwagon, hence the Broken Dolls being laconically lauded by their label as; ‘melding dance floor grooves with real rock riffs’ or some other meaningless hyperbole. It is half hearted bullshit and it’s bad for the band too.  CDs will be landing on the wrong desks and callously tossed aside after one track, by bemused listeners. 

Rant over. 

Now the review, sit up and take notice. Broken Dolls have something. The almost indescribable ability to draw you in. The art of song writing. No boundaries have been crossed, sonically there’s an absence of guitar solos, showmanship, 3 / 4 time beats, fancy stuff. Instead, everything is disarmingly wonderful. Whether it’s the crack-charged-expansive indie anthemia of Peaches or the lolling pulse of One of These Days, it will take you to a place where you remember bands you loved and lost, forgotten heroes, the Datsuns, BRMC, 13 by Blur. It took me a little while to get into it though, partly because I was still quite hacked off about the fact that they’re a straight up indie rock band being hyped as something else and partly because the lyrics grated a bit, especially on the opener Here We Go and follow up track Rock and Roll. Gallagher esque rhymes and clichés abound, so beware. 

Pretty much every track is underpinned and driven forward by distinctive lead singer Neil Lole. Expressing a vocal depth, range and versatility rare in this genre, the purity of sound more than compensates for any lyrical prosaicism. But far from being a vehicle for the undeniable talents of Lole, the music more than speaks for itself. 

Nothing about the album is shambolic or improvised, there’s a clean edge to every track which is probably down to the co-production of Jim Abbis and Jagz Kooner. There’s no trace of the Arctic’s gritty realism though, the band preferring to detach the content away from reality, somewhere in Primal Scream territory, which must have made working with Kooner all the more satisfying. 

They’d do well to keep the same production team involved for the follow up, as rumour has it they’re on a five album deal. Certainly worth keeping an eye on them.

Ian Anderson

 
 

UNKLE - War Stories - Surrender All 

Back in 1998 a hugely hyped album was released. Its was Psyence Fiction by UNKLE. A cutting edge record label with an LP featuring the most coveted artists of the day performing songs arranged and produced by revered label boss James Lavelle alongside the undisputed heavyweight king of all beat mavericks, DJ Shadow. It struggled under the weight of expectation and the moment passed. The revolution didn’t happen.  Follow up album Never Never Land was chaotically thrust upon a bewildered public to cynical disdain and now, nine years after Psyence Fiction and with the trip-hop scene floundering in the wastelands, Lavelle, and Richard File, have given it another go. 

The formula however, has changed. The star wars references, stellar collaborators and b-boy approved breaks of the original album are missing, the genre muddling unfocused efforts of the extra difficult second album have given way, to real songs, allowed to breathe by utilising simpler arrangements and a little more grimy soul. There’s touches of U2’s panoramic structuring, genuinely heartfelt and immensely powerful strings, crackly little guitar riffs that explode into vivid colour, rain lashed atmosphere and underneath, the heart, the beat, that snare, once practically copyrighted by Lavelle et al., pulses away, gasping for air under thick layers of sound. Its good, really frighteningly good. 

There’s a lot of contributors. On Psyence Fiction, the collaborators took over. The album felt like a homage to the likes of Richard Ashcroft, Thom Yorke and Ian Brown. A lesson needed to be learned. 

And it was:  The likes of the Duke Spirit, 3D and Gavin Clarke put a bit of their stamp on War Stories, but this time they are treated as guests, round at UNKLE’s place, playing by UNKLE’s rules and the result is a coherent album. Its not obvious who is doing what, or where, and nobody’s ego gets in the way of the songs. To hear Josh Homme lamenting relatively gently over what sounds like a distressed Tom Vek out-take that’s been gently remixed by Daft Punk is quite something. 

Ian Astbury features on the biggest pointer back to the heritage of tracks like ’Be there’ The drums are classic Mo Wax and the piano in the break is beautiful, spine tingling and thanklessly devoured by the return of the relentless breakbeat. It’s a standout track. As is the closing epic (what else did you expect) ‘When Things Explode’ featuring Astbury, violins and a wall of noise. Brilliant. 

Real progress has been made, and if the label and format issues which plagued Never Never Land are avoided, UNKLE could well have that richly deserved massive selling, critically acclaimed album that once seemed inevitable.

Ian Anderson

 
 

The Novasouls - Pipe Dreams & Bravado 

There are loads of social commentators around at the moment riding high at the top of the charts. For better or for worse, artists like Lily Allen (mainly worse) have made it okay for the first time since Britpop to actually nick a load of Kinks lyrics about what an eccentric place Britain is, as if we all thought it was actually sterile and crap like in Logan’s Run.

Problem is, do we need any more? The Novasouls certainly slip easily into the mould, with matey guitars and nudge-wink lyrics about likely lads and slutty girls. To give them credit, they’re a cut above a lot of the same type of bands by virtue of the fact they’re not trying to be different in any way. They cite The Jam and The Libertines as major influences, and hence we do get a combination of ramshackle good-time tunes for our outlay.

The Ipswich quintet do seem to spend a lot of time in various pubs, and this leads to a samey re-occurrence in their lyrical content. One or two, especially on an album sold primarily to a live audience, are fine, but if The Novasouls find themselves with major label backing then numerous references to black sambuca and Saturday evenings will have to go, I’m afraid. Still, ‘Pipe Dreams & Bravado’ does boast some fine radio-friendly fodder and some wry couplets along the way: “What ‘dyou wanna fight for? Is it ‘cos your Mum’s poor…” (‘What D’You Wanna Fight For?’).

Essentially, The Novasouls could be marketed as a version of the aforementioned Libertines it’s okay to like (that is, if like the rest of the country you find Pete Doherty insufferable). Not as inventive as they might be, or as polished as they could get, but as a self-promoted taster, The Novasouls are certainly worthy of a bit of attention.
www.myspace.com/thenovasouls  

Chris Stanley

 
 

Reuben’s Thread feat. Rachael Rachael - Colour Me Blue 

MySpace was responsible for bringing these two disparate artists together, which just shows that social networking sites can be useful for stuff other than downloading that John Barnes goal against Brazil in the Maracana and seeing how fat your old school bully has gotten. Rachael Rachael, in fact, was signed to Sony before splitting from the label. Amazing that she was, given some of the dreck the Japanese giants pump out on a weekly basis.

   Whatever the circumstances, ‘Colour Me Blue’ has been out a good few months but deserves a review on the strength of the frontwoman’s voice alone. It’s divine, like sucking up melted Galaxy chocolate through a straw made of gold. Mellow Bird’s would taste like it had been percolated in a long-distance trucker’s pants compared to how rich and smooth the vocals are. In effect, we’re talking about a real soul find – not in an annoying Joss Stone kind of way, but in an honest, talented way.

   Not forgetting Reuben’s Thread, the mysterious engine room. He’s a real whiz on the old classical guitar, accompanying RR finely. ‘Are You Happy Now’ is a lovely ballad, as they all are on this debut, but…you knew there was one coming.

   There just isn’t a market for this kind of music at the moment, tuneful as it may be. Coffee bar soul had its heyday in London sometime in the mid-to-late eighties, and although Sade got an MBE or whatever, she’s not done much lately, has she? It’s a shame because ‘Colour Me Blue’ is a decent, solid LP that deserves to be heard.
www.myspace.com/reubensthread  

Chris Stanley

 

Radical Face -  Ghost (Morr Music)

“Now I just sleep beneath your floor, my ghost it tries to keep you warm, I’ve seen the end I’ve lost the war, one day you’re twenty years just like the rain” breathes Ben Cooper during “Wrapped In Piano Strings”, the epicentre of the eleven heartbreaking lullabies that is Radical Face’s Ghost LP.   

Cooper has been crafting and releasing not only music but design under various guises for several years now, effortlessly shifting between styles, subjects and concepts since the turn of the millennium, with only a handful of close friends and musicians for company.

The Electric President project that released a pair of 7” records followed by a self-titled LP on Morr Music in 2004 and 2006 respectively was an encouraging start; Cooper worked with long-time collaborator Alex Kane to release brief, bubbly portions of organic electronica very much in keeping with the aesthetic of Morr at the time, created around frameworks of glitchy beats that were coloured outside of the lines with effected acoustic instrumentation and vocal harmonies. A hopeful glance towards the future and our preconceptions of it, Electric President introduced Cooper’s hushed monologue reminiscent of Ben Gibbard to the world amongst a backdrop of smooth synthetic strings and pulsating bass leads.

In intervals between Electric President releases and this, the debut under the Radical Face moniker, Cooper has worked with brother Emeril on the minimalist Iron Orchestra project and the conceptual Mother’s Basement compositions. The latter featured artists including Cooper, Richard Colado and Jeremiah Johnson writing under extremely specific guidelines, in order to examine how each artist interpreted each ‘assignment’. 

The recurring characteristic of all of Benjamin Cooper’s work is his endeavour to create something that is produced within conceptual restrictions, so that the creation is produced with a purpose rather than for creation’s sake, using the restricted means by which he can create his art to enhance such concepts, and Ghost is no different.

A record based around both first and third-person depictions of the lives that once inhabited the spaces in which we live, their dreams that were never realised and their thoughts that were never formed into words, Ghost sees Cooper using the battered instruments that it was recorded on, along with the most rudimentary of production and editing techniques, to present these sentiments in a way that is fittingly aged-sounding and respectful.  

Opener “Asleep On A Train” acts as a statement for the rest of the LP, sounding like the folk brother of the sketchbook pages of sound etched out by The Appleseed Cast on “Low Level Owl”. Beginning with room noise, touches of piano and gently wheezing accordion, the track coaxes the spirits that inhabit the record back to life, paving the way for a further ten tracks that see them rolling along in satisfaction or sadly stumbling in turn, mirroring their quest for peace.

Where Electric President releases were heavily affected, synthetic and dry to enhance their cautious tones, second track “Welcome Home, Son” uses the rooms in which it was played to create a chilling sense that life and death are not as detached as we might like to believe. Coming across like The Shins in a power-cut or The Album Leaf walking under a constant cloud, each high-end piano melody tinkles a bit more percussively, vocals lap against each other in the vastness until they are one, and the presence of acoustic rather than electronic drums enables the listener to almost step into the rooms depicted in Cooper’s lyrics.  

Everything seems so distant due to the amount of space afforded to these recordings, as if it is being communicated from a distance beyond us, and this is only enhanced when this distance is cut by Cooper’s use of synthesis in tracks such as “Let The River In”, the third on Ghost. This contrast of space is as if a conversation is taking place between those lost and those longing, and the result is a record that plays out hauntingly, as if read from a tattered paperback novel written in a forgotten time.

This record has an ability to evoke memories that we may not even have had, whether it be the naïve military beats of fourth tracks “Glory” or the cinematic qualities of the following track “The Strangest Things”, the melodies reach places that others simply cannot, the places in us that music of pre-packaged emotion had scared away.  

And so, around halfway through the record, we reach the brilliant, beautiful “Wrapped In Piano Strings”. A waltzing guitar part opens with shifting bass notes and near-choral vocals reminiscent of Iron And Wine, and a verse that acts as the shoulder to a bereaved head is followed by a defiant chorus with a rhythm section not unlike that of Animal Collective, again acting as an interpreter to words from mouths long gone away. The second time the verse comes around there are touches of tremelo-picked guitar and deep, string-heavy piano; it is this attention to detail through which Cooper builds his narratives into something beyond mere 4 minute pop songs.

After another pounding chorus of anxious pleas, the song climaxes and is followed by the static piano-led “Along The Road”, another track with a innocent, otherworldly quality that would not be out of place in a cinema, as if its its creaking, crackling and humming strings were made to be transposed to a Yann Samuel or Luc Besson picture. Again the ethereality of Cooper’s language and voice makes straight for the hairs on my neck, particularly in the closing lines “And I could see the airplanes dance behind your eyes, and I was glad I found the time.” 

The focus is brought very much back to those left behind in the following tracks, “Haunted” and “Winter Is Coming”, between the tight, industrial drumming and artificial string leads of the former and the Mariachi-like guitar of the latter. Here Cooper’s vocal is rhythmic and precise to contrast with the washes of harmonies and mumbled laments displayed elsewhere on the record, like a heartbroken Stephen Malkmus.

This doesn’t last too long, however; towards the end of “Winter Is Coming” a distant accordion creeps in, signaling the transition again into comfort rather than solution, and coping rather than being defiant. Cooper attempts and executes this feat perfectly throughout this record, segueing with care rather than effort clear, focused messages of satisfaction and contentedness from those at peace and confused, heartbroken scrawls from those with business unfinished.  

“I found a wheel that squeaks and squeals, and I left it on your doorstep. ‘Cause I heard that you might be broken too, and I thought it’d keep you company.” Out of the two approaches used by Cooper and Kane time and time again in Ghost, it is by far the songs of longing that affect more than those of hope, and none conveys that feeling more than closer “Homesick”.

Coming across like Mum stripped down to a solo and hiding in a cupboard beneath the stairs, the track touches on the parts of people that can die rather than the person themselves, and it is striking that this is possibly more heart-wrenching than those tracks in which Cooper narrates for the deceased. Either way, it is an aching ending to what may be the most beautifully tragic record I have ever heard; an album of remembrance, deep-rooted in the beauty of nostalgia, and the wonderful feeling of loss.
www.radicalface.com
www.myspace.com/radicalface 

Samuel Cain

 
 

GUFF - ‘Symphony of Voices’ (Go Kart) 

As anyone who’s seen my Blink 182 referance email address, I am and always have been a sucker for pop-punk. On paper, Guff should therefore be one of my favourite bands having supported the likes of Flogging Molly, Sum 41, Citizen Fish and Mighty Mighty Bosstones and with an album produced by Charlia Paulson of Goldfinger.

On album Guff come close, but no cigar. They have the bouncy guitar hooks, lyrics that rhyme effortlessly, and they come from a sunny American state. But they don’t sound sure what kind of pop-punk they want to be, wavering between power-pop and hardcore punk. Sometimes this can work (example Lifetime, hands down one of the best pop-punk bands ever) but vocalist Ash ‘Guff’ doesn’t have a strong and interesting enough voice or lyrics. And ‘I Can See It In Your Eyes’ (produced and featuring Steve Perry of Journey) is just sickeningly radio-friendly. 80s style.

But tracks like ‘Hard To Remember’ and ‘Changed’ show that Guff have it in them to finally make it into that stack of Really Awesome Pop Punk Albums that everyone has.

Willa C

 
 

MIDASUNO - ‘Songs in the Key of Fuck’ (Sugar Shack) 

Ah this brings back memories. I remember being a cynical tweenager watching Midasuno playing Subverse, the monthly all ages show at the Camden Underworld. A couple of years later, I’ve become more cynical but it’s okay, because Midasuno have become better. On one hand it sounds like they picked up a female vocalist along the way, but nevermind it’s just Scott Andrews. ‘Don’t Drive’ is danceable in a metalcore way, while being angsty at the same time without being whiny even if it is built around the lyrics ‘So don’t drive faster than you’re angel can fly’.  This vibe is continued throughout the entire album with songs like ‘Rhythm Thief’ which is all about the fast riffery as is ‘Sirens’, and ‘Tooth And Fang’ which has a dark chorus that sticks in your head.

Originally I wanted to compare them to the likes of From First To Last and Intergalactic Cowboys, but after listening to the entire album it became obvious of too things: they move to fast to tag them down with a label, and the entire album has an undeniable British feel. I grew up and so did they, and laws of physics dictate that they’re just going to get bigger.

Willa C

 
 

Compost Records-Freshly Composted Volume 2 (Various)

A compilation to mark 250 releases on the cool and truly wonderful Compost label, this is a must have. Not the tag that is attached to 90% of any compilation of most genres, this collection is a real treat. I’ve lived with it for quite a few weeks now, and the simple fact is that this is nigh-on precious.
I suppose that you might call me a fan of Compost, or at least I was at the back end of the last century where Beanfield and Jazzanova shook my tailfeathers.They defined Euro cool in a way that many other labels at that time might have killed for. In 21C the Compost beast is a many faceted thing, with the label cutting a template for all aspiring future European labels to follow. The Carl Craig remix of Beanfields Tides makes for a great opener, building and drawing in the dabbler from the start. Deep indeed, this bears repeated plays. A CD debut for this cut, as is the case for a lot of the music here this easily lives up the "monumental" tag placed on it.
Fast forwarding to Todd Terje’s rework of Felix Labands Whistling In Tongues, it’s on a par with the often played out (for me and many others) TT remix of Antenna’s sublime Camina Del Sol from 2006. Balearic and lovely, this is a bright walk in the sunlight, like kicking up autumnal leaves in the park.
Jean Paul-Bondy makes the case for electro in Something’s Not Right. Quirky and a little dark around the edges. Karma injects some folk around electronic edges, and comes out like a techno-jazz torch song. Some deeper beats are present in Ben Mono’s offering, which welds phat sounds to an off-kilter vocal, nice. At the end Koop return from an extended hiatus with a spicy and cool piece of latiness. Blending all genres of electronica and dance, Compost stride ever forward with a bold musical statement of intent.

John Kertland

 
 

Broadcasting From OFFtrack Radio-With Jazzanova and Dirk Rumpff
(Sonar Kollectiv CD)

Broadcasting is a mix CD that originates from Dirk’s OFFtrack radio show. Along with Alex Barkc of Jazzanova he has developed an imaginative and incisive musical blend. Like the Internet show itself, it’s a diverse mix of all styles from downtempo and ambient textures through to lush Nu-Jazz coolness. Some tracks are new, while others may be a little more well known, with the older cuts still having "legs" as they say in the business.
Mark Pritchard is well known as an associate of Tom Middleton and his various works, but here he stikes out along with Spacek on a technoid and broken tip with Turn It On. Slope adds to his reputation with the angles and tricky moves in his solo offering. On top of all this he delivers a stunning cut, Suddenly, in partnership with Clara Hill. When the bass kicks in the clouds part, and all traces of drudgery disappear. That’s a road tested fact, it’s great driving music . That selection aside, top of the pops for me here is the gorgeous and very lush Bev Lee Harling cut Life Won’t Wait. The Impossible Human debut EP release from this South coast diva has been a staple at home for quite a while now. Pastoral and striking, the lady comes over like a female version of a near namesake, Tim Hardin. Soaring and lovely, this is a gentle summer sound. Seek out the EP source for this gem, and while you’re at it, take a chance on this radio based compilation.

John Kertland

 

Air Traffic - Fractured Life (EMI)

Ok, I'll get this out of the way first, there are a LOT of people out there who will hate this album with a passion; people who detest chart music, who despise listening to Keane and the like. I don't know whether I'd class myself as one of these people or not, I certainly can't recall the last time I actually cared what was in the charts and i actually quite liked Coldplay before they went all political stadium-rock (Remember the video for Shiver? I liked that band in that video). I'd managed to catch the band live a few months back and was quite impressed by what I saw so I was looking forward to hearing what the album had to offer...

Say the words "piano-led indie" and people immediately draw comparisons to Coldplay and Keane, and even though I've mentioned both bands in the opening paragraph I can't help but feel this is a tad unfair. Yes, the influence of bands like these is obvious for all to hear but for me on various tracks there are bits of bands like Feeder, Supergrass, Hot Hot Heat and even Ben Folds Five thrown into the mix. The problem for Air Traffic is they don't really have their own sound, most songs suffer from the problem of sounding a little bit (or in some cases a large bit) like someone else. While this will no doubt help in their quest for chart success, it's unlikely to win them any credibility among the real aficionados of indie music.

The songs themselves are a mixed bag, the more upbeat poppy songs are generally better than the downbeat piano-ballads. Just Abuse Me, I Like That and Charlotte are prime examples. They're not going to win any awards for complexity, but they're good fun and will probably go down a storm in various indie clubs up and down the land. Get In Line has an almost grungy/punky feel to it by comparison and you can almost feel how energetic it would be live. I'd love to get through this whole review without saying this song sounds like that band, etc, etc. Sadly though there's no getting away from the fact that Empty Space is a Muse song, it's such a blatant rip-off I find it a little embarrassing. For a band whose press release makes grandiose claims of diversity, there isn't really a lot of variation, although one track on the album stands head and shoulders above the rest purely because of it's desire to try something a little different. No More Running Away builds superbly throughout the song with some wonderful tribal drums being joined by piano, organ, more drums, vocal harmonies and then guitars. It just happens to be Fractured Life's real killer track and it's only downside is that it makes the rest of the album sound a bit immature in comparison.

Air Traffic seem to be edging towards the mainstream world of coffee table music and it'd be easy to be a muso snob about it and dismiss them out of hand, but there are some real gems in amongst the filler that hint at a bright future and if you're after a half hour quick-fix of radio-friendly indie-rock then you can't really go far wrong with this.

James Stewart

Oh, and what's the point of having a 15/20 minute gap at the end of the album and then a "secret/bonus track" that's utter tripe! I really hate it when bands do this, they'd have been better off not bothering!

 
 

HOPEWELL - "Beautiful Targets" 

Hopewell's Jason and Justin Russo both once toured with Mercury Rev, and whilst it's perhaps unfair to expect their fourth album to bear any influence of the renowned psychedelic voyagers, I can't help but be a little disappointed. The Russo brothers do what they do perfectly well, whether leaning more to the pop side of things than Jonathan Donahue ever would on "All Angels Road", incorporating a little Queens of the Stone Age chug for "Bethlehem" or channelling the spirit of John Lennon on "Over & Over". Yet it's Jason's voice and penchant for slightly overblown arrangements on tracks such as "In Full Bloom" and "Windy Day" that put me in mind of the accursed Matt Bellamy, the man who managed to turn emotion into just another chapter of the musical theory instruction manual. So, if you like Muse then you might like this too. I, on the other hand, am simply left with the urge to pull out my copy of Deserter's Songs one more time.

Will Columbine

 
 

SEBADOH - "The Freed Man" (Domino) 

Poor old Lou Barlow; first resigned himself to playing second fiddle to J Mascis, only to get the boot, then watched as his lo-fi peers got all the attention. Let's examine the evidence: Elliott Smith got the critical kudos and a turn at the Oscars, Daniel Johnston has his own documentary (surely more down to the triumph-over-mental-adversity factor than any real songwriting skill), whilst Robert Pollard is regarded as some sort of deity over at Pitchfork Heights. Lou, meanwhile, had to suffer the ignominy of being ripped off (extremely lucratively) by Snow Patrol. Thankfully, Domino has seen fit to give the world another chance to recognise what an important and influential figure he has been by expanding this, Sebadoh's debut album, to a massive 52 track banquet of stoned folk, tape hiss and Winnie the Pooh samples. 

Together with like-minded accomplice Eric Gaffney, Barlow recorded countless hours of 4-track songs, snippets and manipulations, whittled them down to fit on a single 30 minute cassette and sold the result in local record stores for a measly $1.00. Even at this early stage, Barlow's talent for writing yearning, heart-on-sleeve ballads is already very much in evidence ("Soulmate", "True Hardcore"), and the contrast with Gaffney's more surrealistic and abrasive ouevre makes the album a more diverse and interesting experience. It's also quite funny at times - check out the hardcore cover of "Yellow Submarine" or Lou's earliest songwriting effort "Punch in the Nose". And those retro TV snippets inbetween songs? Chuck a breakbeat under 'em and, by golly, you've got yourself a Kid Koala album! The Freed Man may not be the most accomplished expression of Sebadoh's art but it's perhaps the most pure. Why not give it a whirl? Heaven knows Gary Lightbody doesn't need any more of your money.

Will Columbine

 

YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS - "Colossal Youth + Collected Works" 

Purchase this cd and you hold in your hand just about every note recorded by Young Marble Giants in their brief career (there's a 3-disc edition available for all you completists), yet despite having the musical lifespan of a fruit fly their legacy looms large. Courtney Love covered "Credit in the Straight World" and Belle & Sebastian would probably have sounded very different where it not for Alison Statton's hesitant, girlish vocals. The music, though, sounds unlike anything before or since. For starters, there isn't a lot of it; a ska bassline here, some brittle guitar or cheap keyboard there, a drum-machine, and that's your lot. In today's musical climate, where professional quality, multitrack recordings can be whipped up by anyone with a half-decent laptop, "Colossal Youth" sounds like a primitive demo, yet it's this very amateurishness that gives the album its charm. To some ears, the majority of the songs here may sound like an intro stretched out to 3 minutes, but you can't deny that these youngsters had an impressive instinct when it came to using space and limited resources. If sparse is your bag, "Colossal Youth" and the additional material gathered here could fill it up quite nicely.

Will Columbine

 
 

Various – I Can Count Volume 2 (I Can Count) 

However many labels there are in Leeds, there always seems to be someone setting up a new one. With Wrath being the comparative stalwart of the scene, there’s now Run of The Mill records – with the ace That Fucking Tank – Engine Room Records and most prominently Dance to The Radio all producing interesting music and showing that Leeds is a city where things seem to be happening. This lot better watch out though, because there is a new kid on the block in the shape of I Can Count. Well, not that new, they’re already on to their second compilation. But this label has a buzz around it that a lot of established ones would kill for. Going for a more electronic style than the aforementioned Leeds-based labels, it still mostly sounds like it would go down well at an indie club night – i.e. no Breakcore or Gabba – even if a lot of the acts use sequencers, synths and samplers instead of guitar, bass and drums. 

In short, it’s a hoot throughout, with an ace opener in Take it All by The Lost Levels and peppered with great tracks such as Sportsday Megaphone’s unashamedly poppy Less and Less – which has recently been released on Rob Da Bank’s Sunday Best label – and the Huw Stephens-approved disco perfection of Saturday Night by Beauty Skool Dropout. “I Can Count”, they say. They can also pick a tune. I’m looking forward to the third compilation.

Patrick Dowson