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  albums - december 2007

 
 
 

Last American Buffalo - "Marquis for the Debutante" (independent)

The vocals on this album from Last American Buffalo swoop from Pete Yorn to Fallout Boy and back to Counting Crows while the guitars echo Coldplay's X&Y period and, on the marvellous 'Ordinary Girl', Franz Ferdinand.
 
But that is irrelevant. This band from Los Angeles are astonishingly good and rise above piecemeal comparisons with their contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic. Two of the hardest things for any up and coming band to get right - the songwriting and the vocals - seem to come so naturally to this bunch that I wonder why on earth they are not signed and embarking on a nationwide tour at this very moment? The choruses are instantly memorable and the arrangements are both authentic and radio friendly - a difficult feat for anyone, let alone a band producing their own full-length album.
 
Four or five songs here would make fine singles including 'Dance Class For a Madame' with its anthemic chorus and the jaunty singalong 'Breaking Up Mine'. They skirt the fringes of punk on 'Fon' (pronounced 'phone') and 'Monster' and can turn their hand to a beautiful folk ballad as shown on 'Privateer' and 'Sunshine'. The band are consistently tight whether playing fast or slow and no track outstays its welcome. The only niggle is over whether the production is a little too polished at times but knowing how to excel at the mixing desk will do them no harm in the long run.
 
Taking a look at their fabulously olde world dress sense only enhances the belief that this is a band enjoying the ride and, if there is any justice, they will be known far and wide before too long. Great stuff. 
www.myspace.com/lastamericanbuffaloband
www.virb.com/lastamericanbuffalo

Chris McCague

 
 

Psapp - Tiger, My Friend (Domino)

Back to the future my friends as Domino re-release Psapp's 2004 debut album Tiger, My Friend. On the cynical side you could say they are cashing in now that Psapp have had tracks played on Nip/Tuck and The OC but on the other hand I'd certainly never heard it before. Oh, and there's also the small matter that it is rather good.

Galia Durant and Carim Clasmann have created a record which switches effortlessly between chocolate box cuteness and quite sullen, atmospheric introspection. Prime example of this is 'Calm Down' where a Trumpton-esque musical box type melody is gradually subsumed by a gently welling melancholy. Add to this Durant's breathy vocals and it emerges almost like a Portishead track.

Percussion is again on anything that comes to hand, even a beer can makes an appearance on 'Tiger, My Friend' and there's a forest of clicks, blips and bleeps to accompany them. But again Durant's molten voice is the oil in these very mechanical sounding cogs which keeps the Psapp sound operating smoothly as a fine tuned engine.

There's further evidence that Durant may have shared a singing lesson or two with Beth Gibbons in the achingly lonely 'The Counter'. If you enjoyed their previous album 'The Only Thing I Ever Wanted' then you will certainly love this. And if you didn't hear that album then what better place Than 'Tiger, My Friend' to be introduced to genius that is Psapp?

SB

 
 

The Hit and Mrs - "Buried In The Backyard of My Heart" (CTL Records)

1000 points for the band name. Another 1000 for the album title.
 
But like the points Drew Carey fritters away on Whose Line Is It Anyway, these points don't matter when the music doesn't match up to expectations. And Hit and Mrs ran out of steam long before the end of this 'regular' studio album. Which makes no sense after the stream of ideas filling their last 'xtra-length' collection of 100 (yes, really) tracks, each 60 seconds or less (see www.100under60.com/undersixty.htm).
 
And I really wanted to like this because anything that starts sounding like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan jamming on a sunday afternoon sure makes me sit up and listen. And 'Hijaxed' is a marvellous opening indeed: dual-tracked high and low vocals squeezed around bursts of whiny harmonica and wilfully atonal guitar solos.
But the subsequent tracks reveal the singer's limited range and, after flirting with Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers, The Hit and Mrs wind up firmly in alt.country territory by the second half, their fate sealed by the almost unlistenable guitar patterns and solos that seem to play all the wrong notes out of sheer boredom on virtually every song - let's just say that the opening to 'Been A Long Time' should never have got past the production team. And I haven't even mentioned the rhyming couplet on the chorus to Pasadena ('Pasadena / She's a meaner'). Oh my.
 
But there is hope here. The guitars can be anthemic ('Pasadena') and the vocals have character ('Graveyard Digger'), if not the range. If they paid as much attention to the music as they do to the marketing, this trio from Ohio, USA could yet score some hits to go with their Mrs. 
www.thehitandmrs.com
www.myspace.com/thehitandmrs

Chris McCague

 
 

Christian Silva- Onward! (Something in Construction)

Onward!, the latest release from London’s melodic songster Christian Silva, presents a record warmed with indie’s finest and glam-rock’s dirtiest elements. The mystery of this undiscovered pop makes Silva’s debut even more charming. Wearing the influence of Radiohead, the sound of Super Furry Animals and on touching moments the un-camped glitter of Patrick Wolf Onward! leads the lo-fi frontier against the nu-rave army. 

Starting with the quietly epic title track Onward, the effect of second track Great To Begin glides into favouritism smoking with catchy rhythms and oddly ‘cheesy’ loops. Other highlights come from good-feel-folk How To Be A Man, Not To Be Noticed and pacey Break From The Past.  

Recently supporting Stockholm outfit Peter, Bjorn and John, Christian Silva’s musical endeavours look brighter on the face of the calming pop stirred by naturally flowing debut Onward!

Erin Kubicki

 

Various  - Brew Records Volume One [Compilation] – (Brew)

Sixteen tracks of the best of Brew, all kinds of acts, labelled broadly as "Alternative and Punk." It's unlikely everything will be your cup of tea, but there'll certainly be something up your alleyway. For the alt/indie fans, "Oblige" by "I Concur," is a demon of a track. Gently bobbing along and emitting a truly feel-good vibe. For the predictable American thrash punk fan inside you, "Life's Debt" by "Plight" might just be your cup of tea. And then off we go on a twisting journey through industrial metal, experimental progression, the haunting electronic tones of "Mucky Sailor," and the enchanting chilled ambient sounds of "Glissando." But it's all certainly an interesting record. Never before have such varying artists been compiled on the same disk, (not including the CDs you make to play in the car on long journeys.) A beautiful mix, and as previously stated, virtually impossible to find something that doesn't float your boat. It seems Brew Records have quite a selection of weapons ready to tear apart the world of music.
www.myspace.com/brewrecords

Thom Curtis

 
 

The Durango Riot - Telemission (Fuzzoramarecords) 

A quick burst of static and The Riot go straight for the jugular with rampant opener ‘Dirty Needs’. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s a real signal of intent from a band bristling with energy and enthusiasm. From here they prove it wasn’t a flash in the pan with the excellent mid-paced ‘I Don’t Know You, Stranger’. Trading on a simple groove the band develop the song confidently incorporating an inventive guitar solo and slowed down, stripped back sections which serve to underline the main riff as it resumes centre stage. It really is an impressive start, and I was fully expecting the quality to drop off – but it doesn’t. 

There is something totally infectious about the manner in which this band go about their business. The songs are vibrant and polished. The lead guitar work is constantly exciting and inventive without becoming self-indulgent. The vocals are strong yet quirky, and the rhythm section is tight and effective. This band is not going to change the world, but they are extremely effective at what they do.  

And it’s not just pulsating rockers either, as The Riot prove when they slow things down on the moody ‘Drivers’. The song starts with echoey guitars, a perfectly pitched harmonica and a haunting vocal which showcases a totally different side to the band. However, after a couple of minutes the band can contain their exuberance no longer as the singer shouts “Go!”, the drums kick in and from nowhere we are treated to a wailing saxophone solo. Just when it seems as though the band have lost focus they effortlessly pull the song back to the original mood and tempo, but leave the harmonica and saxophone to effloresce and meander in the background. Thoroughly engaging stuff. 

The album continues apace with the breezy romp ‘We’ve Planted A Bomb In Your Radiostation’ which somehow manages not to sound hyperbolic in their hands. The band then slow down (slightly) for the hilariously named ‘(Rama Lama) Midnight Haze’ followed by the equally adroit ‘Don’t Follow’. The tempo is then cranked up for the feisty ‘Future 2036’ which breaks off half way through to incorporate a funky bassline and Spanish guitar solo. The album ends on the frenetic title-track and with a pleasing circularity we are returned to the static. 

To conclude, this is a mighty impressive debut album from a talented band with huge potential. The Durango Riot aren’t going to win the Mercury Prize, but they will definitely curl smiles and turn heads with this debut effort. The fact that they experiment with so many different styles, tempos, moods and instruments is admirable. The fact that they deliver this with skill and verve while not losing their idiosyncratic essence is the real achievement here.  

Richard Ash

 
 

50Hz - Here Goes Everything (Blue Tide Records) 

I first listened to this album in the background while doing other things and I quite liked the sound of it. I couldn’t identify particular aspects of it that I liked though, and it all merged into one in my mind. For this reason I gave it another listen in the car where I gave it my full attention. The problem is I felt exactly the same after this listen with one important difference – I didn’t like it any more.

It’s just so bland. I’m flicking through the tracks now trying to find something to remark on, and failing. The songs seem to hang in a vacuum without a purpose or direction, and this gets quite depressing as the album progresses. It’s not that the playing is particularly bad, and the vocals are pretty good in places, but even they are consistently let down by the lyrics. Here’s just a sample taken at random:

'Love love love, talk about love to me” - “I’m trapped in a crystal ball trying to swim upstream” - “She’s only sleeping, why do they put a face on the moon?” - “One hand on the shoulder of time, the other in mine, the blind are leading the blind” - “It’s so hard to find yourself when you’re feet are on the ground”

Sheer platitudinous drivel, and when it isn’t it makes no sense at all. I mean really, what are they on about? How do you go about swimming upstream when you’re trapped in a crystal ball? What’s so hard about finding yourself when your feet are on the ground? Surely that would make it easier if anything. I know lyrics are not always literal, but sheesh! 

I think I would be a little less harsh on the band if it were not for their promo material which claims that their oeuvre includes “out-and-out snarling, guitar fuelled assaults”. There is certainly no such thing on this album, which makes the statement either pointless or deliberately misleading. Worse, there is a quote which describes the band as “Part Muse, part Mansun”. Now I don’t know a lot about Mansun, but the comparison with Muse is so wide of the mark it’s hilarious. Even if the part of Muse this reviewer is referring to is Matt Bellamy’s little finger, it would accord a level of sophistication and inventiveness to 50 Hertz that they simply do not warrant. Not on the basis of this album, anyway. 

You will have guessed by now that I am not a big fan of this band. It’s not my intention to dismiss them out of hand, but 50 Hertz have had five years to arrive at this album. With that in mind you would really expect more substance than is on offer here. The promo material states this is the album “they know has the chance to break them”. Perhaps it’s time to fish that crystal ball out of the stream and have another look.

Richard Ash

 
 

Lionshare - From the Ground (Palimpsest Recordings) 

It’s been a number of years since we put Lionshare on in Leeds. But since that point I’d been a great admirer of what they were doing and the music they were putting out. Their previous EP’s and singles have all been of a really high calibre… so it’s not surprising I had pretty high hopes for this album.

On previous releases the band have concerned themselves with soundscapes and creating very pastoral music. While they never became indulgent (as these things can often become) they deviated enough from ‘traditional’ song structures and experimented enough to remain interesting and not fall into the trap of becoming another in a long list of rather dull folk influenced outfits. In fairness, they pretty much stand head and shoulders above most other ‘folk’ bands around.

Upon first listen I wasn’t entirely convinced that the leap from a string of singles and EP’s to a full length album had been a successful one. Much more concentrated and more traditionally structured than their previous work; I was concerned that they had fallen foul of the traps that they had been so adept at avoiding in the past.

Turns out I was wrong.

After initial misgivings, and following many more repeated listens I’m happy to report that they had delivered an interesting, dense, beautiful and rewarding piece of work, which would make a welcome addition to the record collection of anyone with a passing interest in the more experimental end of the folk spectrum.

There are elements of the sound that are very much English (there are echoes of Nick Drake, possibly in the voice of Simon Loynes more than the actual music, which, is much more akin to the ‘psych-folk’ scene) and comparisons can be drawn from a wealth of great English folk acts, but Lionshare’s sound clearly has roots that stretch far beyond their native soil (as is evident on tracks like ‘The Bark’), and far beyond the confines of ‘folk’. The album was recorded live on vintage recording equipment, so it’s no surprise that the album has a timeless quality to it. It’s a record that frankly could have been released in 1967, just as much as it could have been released in 2007, but that’s not to say it’s any less vital and relevant. All in all it’s a great addition to an already stunning body of work, from a band that deserves much more recognition than they receive.

Drew Millward

 
 

James Hara - Take Us the Foxes (Electric Pig)

Ah, the world of the folky singer songwriter, where gentle chaps and ladies softly strum their acoustic guitars and unload the thoughts on their minds to us. James Hara seems to fit snugly into this niche and demonstrates some fine finger picked guitar. His voice is homely rather than memorable and after a couple of songs this leaves you with a warm feeling inside. Lovely.

So what's the catch? Well unless you are really listening hard and have a masters degree in musicology, I defy you to tell the difference between the melodies in the first 6 tracks. It's just sooo samey. Track 7, 'Into the Nets', does finally buck the trend with an interesting minor chord variation and slightly different timing, more akin to Will Oldham and the like but will you still be paying attention by then?

This is a perfectly technically accomplished album but really fails to push any boundaries. With so many singer songwriters hawking their tunes around at the moment it's hard to see how this can be more than another drop in the ocean. There's the ones who really stand out like David Thomas Broughton, Benjamin Wetherill, Napoleon IIIrd, Mr Fogg and what do they all have in common? They are willing to try something a little bit different and leave this comfortable singer-songwriter land where perfectly nice people stick to playing perfectly nice songs. As Alexei Sayle said, 'nice' is something you say about biscuits.
www.myspace.com/jameshara

SB

 
 

Ben Arthur – MouthFeel  

Ben Arthur has one of those low, slightly nasal American voices that generally make women weak at these knees when they here it. And whilst that might be enough for some, the more discerning music consumers amongst of us know that a good voice does not a good album make.  

Rather like a page 3 girl, Ben Arthur showcases his ‘asset’ at every opportunity, so the result is an album with lots of sentimental ballads with minimal instrumentation and lots of crooning. 

There are flashes of something slightly more interesting though, and ‘Last Goodbye’ is a far more exciting upbeat college rock number that is much better suited to Arthur’s voice. Definitely the rose amongst the thorns. 

Occasionally Arthur hits the ballad nail on the head, and ‘On A Sunday’ is haunting and Buckley-esque, with the touches of piano making it a lot more special than his other attempts. 

It seems Arthur needs to select his songs a little more carefully for his albums, and maybe an EP would have been better, because when he’s good, he’s very good.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Cymbient – Out On The Waves (Surk Recordings) 

Apparently Cardiff is having a musical resurgence, and is now the capital of cool new music. You could’ve fooled me. Cymbient aren’t particularly new. They’re semi-cool though. 

Their pseudo-psychedelic rock is pleasant enough to listen to, and is certainly a welcome change from all the spiky guitars and computer game noises we’ve been hearing of late. By about track four tie-dying will start to seem like a good idea again, and you’ll be wondering why you’ve never tried surfing before. Either that or you’ll just be very relaxed, man. 

As for those Welsh accents… well they’re no-where to be seen, although it’s no wonder as half the band aren’t even from Wales. Instead we have rather strong American accents. Odd, but quite frankly better suited. 

Track seven is a departure from the rest of the laid back swirly melodies, and swaggers along nicely. After this brief intermission though its back to acoustic guitars and wispy vocals.  

A bit Zero 7, a bit dinner party-ish, Out On The Waves is nice enough, but nice doesn’t really cut it for a whole album.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Various Artists -  Organized Crime Sampler (Organized Crime)

This album is an eclectic mix containing tracks from the artists who are signed to the ‘Organized Crime’ record label. It is jam packed full of wall to wall anger, hate, loss and pure thrash, which was enough to make my head ache, jar my teeth, confuse and surprisingly, amuse.

Due to the album offering 17 tracks from individual artists, I have picked out a few which pricked my ears, for instance ‘Shit Outta Luck - Friday Night Fights’ picked me up. This track is full of energy, sounds alive and has great aggression. It is a track that you can really get your teeth into due to its humorous qualities. As the title suggests, the track is about boozy Friday night fights, which strangely is akin lyrically to ‘Saturday Nights alright for Fighting’ and has a great ending with two inebriated men having it out.

Never one to pass a song off by its title, ‘Cross Examination - The Foodening $3.49, Mark Of The Feast’, certainly got me fascinated and was hoping it would keep me interested for the duration of the track. Unfortunately, this was not so. Even though the introduction to the song forced a chuckle out of me “prepare your stomach to set sail on the virtual sea of pizza”, I was actually trying to keep my stomach down for the duration of the track, with a constant rasping, high pitched, supersonic vocals which were too fast to make any sense at all (I had to read the lyrics in the accompanying booklet).
Luckily (or not for the band), the torture only lasted for 1min 45.

‘Get Back Up’ are next on my list, with their track ‘No Bravery’. I have previously reviewed this band and was not too impressed. This offering however contains an excellent mix of deep, dark guitar riffs which then turn on the power to become heavy and thrashier. This, I like. Vocally though, there does seem to be something lacking.

‘Desperation - Built By Our Fathers’ is another track that gripes about society’s degeneration in our age. This is a good all round track with attention paid to various breaks where the riffs are slowed down. This adds variation and contrast to the rawness of the vocals.

‘Casket - Uncomfortable’ was a breath of fresh air to me, a godsend. The track contains a great mix of tempo’s throughout, with catchy guitar riffs and for thrash track, had amazingly clear vocals, so the listener can actually hear what this song was about. Due to this, I give this track a high recommendation.

To find out more about the artists and Organized Crime Records, please visit them at www.organizedcrimerecords.com or their myspace site: www.myspace.com/ocr

Sonia Waterfield

 
 

Get Back Up - Weathering the Storm

'Get Back Up' are a band which formed in Buffalo, N.Y. They played their first show in 2005 have been gigging ever since, sharing the stage with bands such as 'Terror', 'Death Before Dishonour' and 'Outbreak' to name but a few.

'Weathering the storm' was released in August following the release of their debut album 'Symptoms of Failure'.

All through this album, 'Get Back Up' push through a sense of hate, anger and loss. At times, I get a sense of Pantera slipping through the churning riffs and the barbed-wire vocals.

The album starts off promisingly with 'Years Away', however, due to each track sounding extremely like its predecessor, it was sometimes hard to gauge where one song ended and the next began.

Not only this, 'Cold Front' is totally devoid of lyrics and lasts for just over a minute. This confused me as to why it was put on the album at all, as it is not that exciting.

Unfortunately, this album is not for me, however, if you want full on, non-stop, ear grinding thrash metal, then I suggest you give 'Get Back Up' a look into.

Sonia Waterfield

 
 

SAL - Infatuation

SAL is a four piece rock/punk outfit who formed in 2001, with female vocalist Cat at the helm. Since then, SAL have worked with Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia, INME) who produced their debut album ‘Dysfunctional’ that has been released through Copro records.

‘Infatuation’ was released in August 2007 and has been produced by ACE, the former guitarist and founder of Skunk Anansie.

The album starts off with ‘In Love’, a happy, upbeat track which has a chilled, smooth feel that is easy on the ears.

‘Make It On Her Own’ describes the pain and heartache of shattered hopes and wasted dreams. The vocals on this track are pure and full of emotion.

In contrast, ‘September’ brings the joy of new life and breaking free for new ground in love, whilst ‘Goodbye’ is a heavy track tackling the issues of rejection and anger.

To finish this excellent album, listeners are left with ‘Dreaming’, and as the name suggests, the lyrics are full of frustration of not being able to act or voice your personal dreams and desires to others.

All in all, I really liked this album, it is both catchy and refreshing to hear a good female vocalist.

For more information on SAL, visit www.saltheband.com or via www.myspace.com/salthband.

Sonia Waterfield

 
 

New Project - Ultraviolent Light

‘New Project’ released their first E.P ‘ Primal.Logic.Slave’ during 2006 and were chosen as one of the UK’s top 6 hottest unsigned acts by Metal Hammer magazine. The band have performed on stage at Mean Fiddler and shared the stage with ‘Rose Tattoo’, ‘Skindred’ and ‘3 Inches of Blood’.

‘Ultraviolent Light’ is the band's first full length album and has been produced by Dan Turner (Cradle Of Filth, Bullet For My Valentine’).

As I listen to this album, I can actually believe at times that I am listening to DanI Filth, screeching through the tracks.

‘Chemical Drive’ has an industrious feel to the start of the track and also during the interlude. The main highlight is the whispering during the chorus, which really adds an ethereal quality.

‘Cyberpunk 2.0’ is the first track where you can actually hear the vocalists true voice, which rears itself through the chorus. Believe it or not, he sounds great and makes this a song that I can and will again, comfortably listen to.

Out of the blue, came ‘God Again’, which has a combination of the vocalists excellent skills, from the haunting whispering, to his natural range and then up into a screeching, rasping crescendo, all accompanied by a multitude of guitar style changes, ranging from the chorus which is (dare I say it) almost bordering on rock/indie, to industrial churning then to pure thrash. This was certainly a great aural experience and kept me on edge throughout.

‘Forever Far Beyond’ is a great track, however, it doesn’t seem to fit on the album due to its techno beat and accompaniment. I even had to check that I was still listening to the same artist. It has a mellow quality and simply glides 'Ultraviolent Light' to a smooth stop.

Sonia Waterfield

 
 

Farming Incident – Nine Degrees of Torture (Wrath) 

Farming Incident seem to specialise in the simple. Take writing a song about the true story of the man who deliberately ingested a tapeworm and let it grow it to eight feet long, before passing it through his anal tract and calling up the Daily Star et al. to document the aftermath: The correct Farming Incident approach to adopt when dealing with this sensitive subject is simple. Think of a song name / chorus such as ‘Parasite Worm of Death’ – yep that’ll do – and repeat. Oh yeah, add the lyric ‘every morsel you take increases the size of the snake’ to vary it about a bit and the band, erm, generally thrash your instruments in a disjointed fashion without ever playing too quickly, don’t want to us sound like a metal band. Next… 

Not that the approach doesn’t work. Almost everything sounds okay on Nine Degrees of Torture; the songs are raw, underproduced and gritty, making the album sound a lot like a demo, or a live recording. Their musical style is quite easy to draw similarities with. Take something like a milk crate: something that hasn’t really evolved, was never fashionable, is not complex, is not groundbreaking, but is not intrinsically bad. In fact, what a milk crate does, holding milk, keeping it upright, it does well. So it’s hard to criticise the milk crate. But unless you really needed one, you wouldn’t buy one and you could never love the milk crate, or emotionally connect with it unless you were well weird. 

Similarly, it’s impossible to really love or connect emotionally to the simplistic drumming and fuzzy guitars, the childish lyrics, slack timing and the moronic delivery. It’s tough to listen to the whole thing through without wanting something with more of a point to make or a better way of making it.

Ian Anderson

 
 

The Bobby McGee’s – S’amuser Com des Fous (Cherryade Music)

On the cover of this release there are 2 cartoon bears who have been trying and slightly succeeding in knocking the stuffing out of each other. There is blood on each bear, kids, and anguished facial expressions. Inside the CD, arranged as 1s and 0s, however, is none of this commotion. Just simple little songs of love and longing on banjo, guitar, bass, tin whistle and so on, with Scots’ bloke vox and fragile Southern English girl vox mixing in nicely. Fey, foppish, wimpy and poppy could possibly be the adjectives aimed at this act in an attempt to slag them off, and yes they are all those things, but the songs are lovely and if you fail to be moved by them, then you are Satan.

Dave Procter

 
 

At the Soundawn – Red Square: We Come In Waves (UKDIVISION) 

Feral-roaring that could make your hair fall out from a hundred yards, unintelligible harmonies and then a horn-section interlude laid over some Isis-style brooding!?  I wouldn’t mind but this is the first song from Italian hardcore boys At The Soundawn, and I just wasn’t prepared!!

Don’t get me wrong, first track “Slight Variations” is not badly-recorded or even poorly-executed, and there will be folks out there who love this kind of thing, but At The Soundawn continue to not know really what they are, throughout the ensuing six tracks.

“Submerged” is equally as lost, with tinges of Euro-rock, sludgey riffs and yet more barking, and “One Day Before” again has the ingredients of being worth the listen, but these ingredients (chunky riffs, delicate vocals) are mashed in with more ear-splitting bellowing and fractured song-structuring, and therefore don’t come out with a palatable end product.  “Phone Will” has a beautiful mid-section, but stodgy outer crust, and I hate to say it, but the 1:50 “Sundown in Rome” is the best thing here, not because of its brevity but because it actually decides what it wants to be from the outset and sticks to it – like the first outfit tried on by the wife when you are late leaving the house, it doesn’t have time to change.  There was no redemption for this reviewer from final tracks “Rain Falls” and “Frames of You” either, offering up more of the same.

Stuart Bowen

 
 

The Elephants – “The Elephants” 

How does one stumble over a herd of elephants? Well, when they’re a five-piece indie band from Denmark that tries to add you as a Myspace friend, it’s not quite as unlikely as you’d think. Intrigued by their name, I checked out their profile and fell for a couple of the tracks they had playing there – “Shivers” and “Caroline Knows”. Both were fab slices of surf-guitar pop, the voices of Martine and Bjarke harmonising and intertwining to glorious effect, that suggested a group influenced by the greats (Wilson, Reed, Coyne). More importantly, they made me want to hear more so when I discovered that an album was imminent I requested a copy directly, and they very kindly sent me one. 

Now, the difficulty for any half-decent band to live up to that early promise cannot be underestimated, so it’s not a huge surprise that this is the case here although it is disappointing. I want to love this album but the fact of the matter is there aren’t any tracks as good as those songs that first caught my attention (both included, I’m glad to report). Also, their delivery seems a little cold on occasion, like on “The Cruise” which would be heartbreaking if Bjarke didn’t sound somewhat distant and disinterested. In truth, they remind me a lot of Shout Out Louds, only drier. 

That’s not to say that it should be considered a failure; The Elephants know their onions too well when it comes to crafting good melodies, their arrangements are impeccable and, save for the misguided attempt at doing ‘epic’ on “Good Times” (a rather aimless turn that doesn’t catch fire until the band rocks out at the end, and which goes to show that these particular pachyderms work best within the 3 minute framework), there isn’t a bad song here. In fact, most of them would put their contemporaries to shame, and “Autumn Hearts” deserves a special mention a) for being lovely and b) for being the sole effort on which Martine takes the lead vocal slot. It would have been nice to hear her do so more often. 

Perhaps The Elephants have simply set the bar too high and need a little more time and experience to catch up with themselves. If that’s the case, we’ll consider this a promising debut that hints at greatness and look forward to the day those seeds reach fruition.
3 ½ out of 5.
http://www.myspace.com/theelephantsdk

Will Columbine

 
 

The Heart Strings – “Try Fly Blue Sky” 

Another example of a band I fell in love with a while back, but who haven’t quite pulled off the coup of making their debut album “all killer, no filler”. Reviewing The Heart Strings demo almost two years ago was the highlight of 2005; their songs were things of passionate yearning, star-gazing wonder and imagination but with a muscular undercurrent that prevented them ever sounding cloying or twee. “Try Fly Blue Sky” has its moments and you can hear how much thought and attention to detail that has gone into it, yet the newer material sounds rather fragile in comparison to the triumphs of yore.  

With its thudding groove, “Cannonball Stan” still sounds like the best thing The Folk Implosion never wrote, while “Pedalo” and “He Wanted to Fly and He Flew” capture the imagination with tales of human endurance within the context of fantastical situations. The tale of a man attempting to cross the ocean on a fairground ride isn’t your usual type of subject matter. In contrast, singing about lusting after the waitress in your local greasy spoon (“Mariana”) doesn’t measure up, especially when the song itself sounds as though it might blow away in a slight breeze. Meanwhile, there’s something a bit rigid about tracks like “Her New Disaster” and “Nina and her Very Long Hair”, pretty as they are. Indeed, this is an album that often sounds as though it’s holding its breath, afraid to exhale in case the walls of the fairytale castle come tumbling down. 

Like their heroes Crowded House, The Heart Strings are likely to attract devotion and derision in equal measure. There’s no questioning their talent, skill and pop credentials, but one can only take so many harps, xylophones and tinkling pianos before the urge to hear some crushingly loud, distorted guitars takes over. At least, that has been my experience. Others will love their poise, delicacy and reclamation of the song as a vehicle for storytelling rather than simply whining about girlfriend troubles. If they could take a leaf out of The Flaming Lips book and inject a little more backbone into their music, I would definitely have both feet in the latter camp instead of only one. 3 out of 5.
http://www.myspace.com/theheartstrings

Will Columbine

 
 

Truckfighters – Phi (Fuzzarama) 

Please welcome Paco, Dango, Ozo and Fredo. No, not a collection of bathroom cleaners, or even the Scandinavian Teletubbies. They are none other than Sweden’s foremost purveyors of sludge and fuzz - I give you Truckfighters. If you are a fan of stoner rock then read on, if not you might as well stop here. 

Because stoner rock is what Truckfighters do, and lots of it. From the opening three tracks ‘Atomic’, ‘Fortyeight’ and ‘Kickdown’ the tone is set. The viscous, meaty riffs give the feel of a band jamming, but the playing remains tight and effective. The songs are developed well but never really take off. 

The fourth song ‘Chameleon’, clocking in at just over ten minutes, is the centrepiece of the album. Although I applaud the band for their ambition, it doesn’t really work for me. It sounds like a collection of good ideas but doesn’t hang together as a coherent whole. The last minute or so is acoustic with a cello introduced in the background, but this has more in common with the next song than the song it is supposed to be a part of.

This next song is the excellent and virtually unpronouncable ‘Dysthmia’. Here the band contrast a clean, pretty riff with their trademark fuzzy sludge and combine the two skilfully to conclude. It is easily the best song on the album and reminiscent of Kyuss at their best. The last five songs see a return to the dense, distorted vibe of the opening three with no real variation in quality or substance. The playing remains proficient, the riffs are well crafted, but nothing really grabs you. 

Truckfighters are a decent band, and will carve out a comfortable niche for themselves with this album. If you’re well into stoner rock then ‘Phi’ will not disappoint, but neither will it convert anyone to the cause. It is refreshing to hear a band that know what they do well and stick to it, but ‘Dysthmia’ persuades me that they are capable of a little more creativity and invention than is evidenced in the majority of this album.  

Richard Ash

 
 

Mark Edwards - Balance

With a turn for the better, once music critic (like me!) Mark Edwards has conjured up a work that he quite possibly believes will top a lot of music he'd been sent to review in recent years.

'Balance' numbs our skulls and wires through an ambient glow straight to the centre of our brains. A tough record to get your head round? Not If you simply sit down and listen with concentration – usually what you have to do for most brilliantly rewarding albums.
However Edwards does unpleasantly remind me of Jacknife Lee's attempt at a solo record earlier this year. Full of confidence, full of hype but not reaching the standard of those that he works with. Edwards is full of musical talent and experience in the business, it was no doubt that people would hear his work and enjoy it but it doesn't get brilliantly exciting.

For a man that's influenced by much bigger acts, (Bowie, Eno) you would expect an album full of non-stop glamour hits which nobody can fail to like. Instead 'Balance' is a tribute to the more unknown acts out there. Edwards will probably stay reasonably unknown but at least it sounds like he's done what he's always wanted to do : He's released an album on a record deal.

Jamie Milton

 
 

Cowtown - Pine Cone Express

A tip for all budding musicians: never describe your music as "Spaz rock, fused with electric lemon". It's the equivalent of calling your album 'Tripe: Come and Get Me'. I wasn't impressed by the press release, therefore when I put Cowtown's debut album in my CD player; they had a lot to do to up my opinion of them.

But then again Final Fantasy called his latest album 'He Poos Clouds' and look how good that was. You can only be open-minded for an album like 'Pine Cone Express'. It's a record likely to give you a headache, but an enjoyable one. Repeating single sounds until they sit comfortably in our head, this could pass as a form of hypnotism.

A seemingly ferocious live act, Cowtown have managed to employ some kind of genius producer who has managed to eclipse their live sound in the form of a record, something not even Holy Fuck could do. 'Curtis Fingers' sounds out-of-control, encouraging you to play copycat. 'Part man, part machine, all cop' is one of the best modern day music titles and the song almost lives up to it. You could take little elements out of every one of these songs and turn them into frantic samples everyone'll want to use. For now, Cowtown are going D.I.Y, showing all of us how it's done.

And of course they're influenced by deerhoof, of course they're a gung-ho, don't-give-a-shit kind of band. These are all good things for those that like something gutsy and willing. But by God, they should get someone else to write their press releases for them.

Jamie Milton

 
 

The Colt .45s - Let’s Have An Accident (Filthy Little Angels) 

For an album that seems to be named after something Delia Smith might shout while pissed out of her box on the Christmas liqueurs, this is one of the more intriguing offerings coming down the chimney this month. Four completely snotty young punk-asses from Durham, the Colt .45s like their art-noise, their slight instrumentation and their shouty slogan filled choruses. I’d usually dismiss it as kids making their usual noise, and consequently tune it out because I was trying to watch Top Gear.

But they demand attention. They’re so immersed in post-punk that I can’t describe them as anything but a giant slab of concrete brilliance covered in chocolate. They look and sound great, have a fantastic attitude and as long as they keep treading the same path while holding their middle fingers aloft then they won’t have anything to worry about when it comes to shifting units.

‘Rocket Fuel’ is the perfect opener. Vocalist Anne-Marie Atkinson has a voice that’s infinitely more preferable and full of character than blandthon Leona Lewis and sounds so much like Siouxsie Sioux it’s incredible. Comparisons have been drawn between these and Help, She Can’t Swim but in my opinion these are better. The album has great variety, presence and poise, and if The Colt .45s move to a major they’ll have all the character sawn off with great industrial sanders, so check this out while you can.
www.myspace.com/thecolt45smusic
www.filthylittleangels.com 

Chris Stanley

 
 

Axisgallery - Digital Orgasm

If there was ever a reason why England shouldn't get more integrated into the European union then this experimental collection of Euro trash is it. Boy Cum Over offers false hopes of CSS style electronical dirty guitar infused dance, but just wait until track two: 'Party Animal' kicks in and see how long you last without spewing up over this tasteless rubbish. Cringing lyrics such as "tasting like a peach, baby you're the one" could make a toddler call taste control. Eleven tracks where two minutes into each one 80's stadium rock guitar solos and the continuous creepy sexual concept kick in. Misguided samples are mixed into badly arranged, nonsensical compositions. Their PR state Axisgallery formed 'during the bleak musical wasteland of 2004' and that they incorporate, well, everything it seems. A list so ridiculously long with world music forms that it sounds pants before you even turn it on. If you need any more reasons to save your money from Digital Orgasm then just read the plain stupid end track title: 'Unbearable Lightness Of Filo Pastry.' Vomit inducing.

Nick Burman

 
 

The Argonauts – “Sixes and Sevens” 

A friend recently asked me how many big bands of today contain multiple singer songwriters and, I must confess, I was stumped for an answer. Teenage Fanclub, while great, were never huge. See, it can’t be an easy trick to pull off; invariably one talent will shine out above the rest…and then there’s the squabbling, musical differences and inflated egos rubbing up against each other. How will The Argonauts, three plucky young scamps from Norf Landarn, fare? 

United by a shared love of Supergrass, they don’t follow their heroes down the power trio route, having instead mastered the art of the song that bobs along nicely. They deviate from this template but rarely, meaning rockier tracks like “What Happened to You?” stand out even more than they might otherwise. This is summery feel-good pop with brass and organ that will get your toes a-tapping but never raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Drummer Terry Swain provides the more robust tunes and is the only one to possess a distinctive voice, though he may run into difficulties when David Bowie asks for it back. Meanwhile, Dan Fell and James Eaton vocally fall somewhere in the midst of Ray Davies, Gaz Coombes and Ride, only without the hurricane guitars to back them up. It would definitely not be a bad thing if all three harmonised more often or even sang entire songs together. Hey, it worked for Crosby, Stills & Nash. 

It’s their love of good melodies that are their main selling point and each song has its own charm, with “Dark Little Corners” worth mentioning in particular for its satisfying chord progression and world weary vibe that contrasts with pretty much everything else on the LP. They’ve also kept the production as minimal as possible, a commendable attitude in today’s culture of multi-track excess, and the record has nice “live” vibe to it. Overall, it’s a decent start but hopefully by album number two they will have learnt to function more as a unit rather than three songwriters taking turns in the spotlight. 3/5
http://www.myspace.com/theargonautsmusic

Will Columbine

 
 

The Warlocks – Heave Deavy Skull Lover (Tee Pee) 

All I knew about the Warlocks is that there used to be over 10 people in the band, they love the drugs and Buddyhead thinks they’re great (especially the older albums). This album has a great name and some ace song titles and even though, on reading ‘Valley of Death’, ‘Death I Hear You Walking’ and ‘Interlude in Reverse’ I was expecting something heavier, they are still useful markers as to what you’re going to get. 

They aren’t afraid to embrace druggy sounds - most songs sound like the soundtrack to drug hazes and dreams, which can be no bad thing. Songs repeat and move in cycles, getting inside your head, almost to aid you as you stare into space. Listened to straight it can get a little repetitive, but only a little. I bet it really is a super stoner album. 

The aid of drugs aside though, the songs are actually pretty good, their length (only 2 songs under 5 minutes) can sometimes be a challenge considering that the songs don’t really go anywhere, emitting coiling loops of gentle distortion and almost spoken, breathy singing. Not so much an album to put on in the background, more an album to have on and let wash over you. As far as stand out tracks go, ‘Zombie like Lovers’ is ace, urgent, spins without hurting. ‘Death I Hear You Walking’ sounds like falling and rising without stopping. The bonus track shouldn’t have been a bonus track. It’s the best song on the album.

‘Heavy Deavy…’is a perfect way to not harsh your mellow and some of the songs are actually beautiful, which I think would equal a mission accomplished for The Warlocks.

Oh, I couldn’t get away with not saying that they sound like MBV.

Christopher Carney