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  albums - july 2008

 
 
 

Hot Club De Paris - Live At Dead Lake (Moshi Moshi Recs)

It takes nearly a minute to even start this album, through the intro of "Call Me Mr. Demolition Ball," consisting of ambient hums and rhythm-less plucks- the musical equivalent of Chinese water torture. It then becomes exactly what you'd expect from a band in 2008 called Hot Club de Paris. Quirky indie beats and rhythms are what these guys do best, even if a lot of other bands can boast the same. There's a strong hint of Vampire Weekend nestled in this group but with a significantly British twist. There's also something about the vocals I can't quite get my head around. The end of every line trails off like in natural speech, so he isn't really singing at all. There are however, interludes of chanting and a general "wha-hey!" vibe to what is all in all, a good opening track. Perhaps not worthy of the odd intro, but good never the less. At this early stage in the LP, I'd class HCDP as a blend of Vampire Weekend and Foals, if you were wondering.

From then on, much of the same. I'll confess I do like it, but there's still something about the vocals that niggles. I can't put my finger on it. There's something slightly Holloways about the vocals, in fact. (I've referred to three bands in this review, and two are potentially one-hit wonders; that can't be good?!)

This fourteen track album spans only thirty-five minutes. I know we're used to that kind of abysmal album-length, but still, it would be nice to have something to listen to that will last longer than half an hour without utilising the repeat function. That said, this intense pacey wonky indie music, might make your face explode if over-exposed. To make this album longer, and listenable, you would need something that is generally lacking variety. Everything does sound the same, and even though one song is good (thus rendering them all good,) it gets a bit tiring. But all in all, well worth a listen. Tracks I particularly enjoy, are "My Little Haunting," "For The Parties Past And Present," and the opening track already mentioned, "Call Me Mr. Demolition Ball."
www.hotclubdeparis.com

Thom Curtis


 

Stapleton - Rest and Be Thankful (Xtra Mile)

Well this is just fantastic. It really is. Another brilliant group signed to Xtra Mile, I'm happy to report. A refreshing take on indie music, that isn't necessarily original but recently, we haven't heard much of this kind of sound. Stapleton aren't a band you can refer to as "oh, one of those bands." A blissful blend of Minus The Bear and (perhaps, I might have got this wrong,) Tokyo Police Club's "Elephant Shell" album. Yes it is indie, but no there's no ridiculous accents, spoken word, crazy vocal chants, or overuse of hi-hat it's just exactly why guitars were created. There's not a single song that relies on a basic chord strumming- every one has beautiful licks and sequences, without in-your-face riffs. And the vocals that lie on top, are breathy and gentle, and often feature more than one person. It really is the epitome of "melodic" without being, for lack of a better phrase, poppy shit.

This is their fourth album, and have been around for over ten years. Quite incredible really, I'll confess I hadn't heard of them until now. And what a shame that is, I'm more than intrigued as to digging out their previous material. I'd say they're the kind of band who quietly get on with things and have a close-knit cult following, as opposed to having a song featured on The OC and being plastered all over NME and similar ridiculous publications, cough cough. From what I've heard, I'm in love, with highlight tracks being "From Wood To Ridge" and "Versus The Underground" which open the album, and "Absent Friends," also.

Thom Curtis

 

Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Heartcore (Leaf Label)

Wildbirds & Peacedrums are Swedish duo Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin. Singer and percussionist respectively, the couple met at the Academy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg. ‘Heartcore,’ a collection of stripped down and graceful songs, was released originally in Sweden in 2007. The album takes minimalism to the extreme – vocals and percussion make up the majority of the songs, with a zither and other instruments used intermittently throughout. This stripped down approach works well to showcase Walletin’s voice, which flits from soft whispers to passionate and powerful blues-influenced vocals.

On first listen, ‘Heartcore’ could be a bit too odd for some. ‘Birds’, for example, begins with anguished moans and continues with almost chaotic percussion. After more listens it starts to make sense, and tracks such as ‘Birds’ simply display the awesome range of Wallentin’s vocals. Songs like ‘The Way Things Go’ and ‘I Can’t Tell In His Eyes’ are considerably more accessible on the first play. ‘The Way Things Go’ uses only vocals and percussion, and builds up as it progresses, while ‘I Can’t Tell In His Eyes’ is a sweet, shimmering song.

‘Doubt/Hope’ purely uses vocals and percussion, but the layered vocals make the song sound much fuller than would be expected from the sparse instrumentation. ‘The Window’ perfectly displays the uninhibited nature of Wallentin’s vocals, but the song only really picks up when Werliin’s percussion commences. The bluesy aspect of Wallentin’s singing is shown in the wonderful ‘The Ones That Should Save Me Get Me Down.’

‘Heartcore’ is made up of graceful, yet uninhibited vocals, matched with various styles of percussion. It is an unusual album that takes a few extra listens to get used to, but is undoubtedly worth it.

Yasmin Prebble

 
 

Hannah Fury - Through The Gash

Hannah Fury has been creating subtly spellbinding, but richly expressive music for over a decade, and she has written, performed, engineered, and produced several albums and EPs permeated by her unique, self-described “mellowtraumatic” sound that takes the listener on a wonderfully uneasy ride to an otherworldly realm.  

Hannah’s songs are marked by a continuous undercurrent of ominous tension that is both disquieting and captivating, and by her haunting, graceful vocal style where she sometimes comes across in a clear, pure tone, and at other times buries the words a bit with wavering layers of vocals or draws the words out and twists them around to magnify the underlying tension of her lyrics.  The accompanying instrumentation of flowing piano or funereal organ runs, delicate, music-box notes, and bright bell tones either follow her airy vocal melodies or provide an eerily swirling counterpoint to her inner turmoil.   

Hannah’s latest full-length Through The Gash was released to high acclaim by music critics and discerning music listeners.  It’s her most sonically fleshed-out, diverse, and compelling album to date, down to its eye-catching cover art and the lyrics booklet inside.  Hannah’s vivid, stark lyrics cut to the quick, and deal with themes of love, longing, and loss (in its various forms), innocence, deception, and corruption, betrayal, hurt, and revenge, and justice, survival, and hope.   

The mesmerizing “No Man Alive” pulsates with an undercurrent of dark, dreamy energy and is filled with breathy, echoed sighs and whispers, and sinister, hissed vocals, along with breaking glass, piercing shrieks, chiming music box notes, piano runs, and cymbal smash.  “Carousel” is an extremely poignant refection on coming to terms with the passing of a loved one, with the lyrics “Don’t worry, don’t be sad, think of the time we had, there is no future or past, and life is not meant to last.”  

The defiant and unhurried epic “Girls That Glitter Love The Dark” floats with a sweet melody, but coats such bitter lyrics as “…girls that glitter deceive death…glitter covers all the ugliness…shimmer covers all the mess, glitter covers darkness…”  In a refreshing break from the enigmatic effects of most of the songs on this album, “You Had Me” is an atmospherically spooky take on a traditional country music song with plainer, more straightforward singing, a verse-chorus-verse structure, and less lush production.  

“Where The Wounds Are” is an exploration of the idea of escaping “real life” by focusing on the formation of a song, as Hannah sings “…just weave all your sadness into a song…” and “I am fine, just left with scars, to remind me where the wounds are…where madness ends and music starts…”, suggestive of the power of creating music as a hopeful and healing way to deal with the hard knocks of life. 

Jen Stratosphere Fanzine 

 

White Denim - Workout Holiday (Full Time Hobby)

This album has received fantastic reviews all over the place, and if I'm honest, I'm curious why, and I'd like a healthy dose of whatever everyone else is on. This is, quite frankly, a sack of shit. Well, maybe just a small parcel of shit.

Not only is the song playing lacking a significant degree of talent, but it sounds like it was recorded in a shed, by GCSE music students. I listened to this album briefly before Glastonbury and made a mental note that it's as enjoyable as pissing tennis balls, but returned after a weekend of hearing all sorts of music, to start a fresh. It appears that no matter what mood of state of mind I'm in, it's just going to annoy me. (Unless I was in the situation of "listen to this album and I'll give you six thousand pounds and a yorkie bar.")

I've no idea where all this hype came from. They're a band who have had no label for a majority of their career it seems that nobody really had hope in them. And suddenly after a self-released album "Exposion," Full Time Hobby signed them, re-ordered the tracks, and released the album as "Workout Holiday." I can however, rest safe in the knowledge that the hype will have virtually disappeared by the end of the Summer, and by the time a second album has been frantically thrown together, nobody will give a monkeys. Now I know that sounds a little unfair, but in fairness that's exactly how music this way is going.

I suppose I'd actually better talk about the music as opposed to going into rant-mode as to why I hate it, this is after all, a review. It's noisy, it's in your face, and it shouldn't be. It is at heart, indie music. If recorded cleanly, by a good band, in time, it could pass as being an average-to-good album. But instead it's just a rowdy racket, where the levels are far from balanced. I know they're probably trying to be "out there" and innovative, but that only appeals to the kind of people who think that they themselves are "out there" and innovative, and instead of ACTUALLY being "out there" and innovative, just do what they think "out there" and innovative people should do, in the gaze of society. They're breaking down boundaries that don't need to be broken down, and it's just noise.

There are, subtle hints of brilliance, but they're so hidden it's not worth trawling the entire album. One example is in "Look That Way At It," towards the end, where there's a fairly good musical section, and also towards the end of "WDA." You have to suffer eleven tracks before finally finding a song that is quite good from start to finish. The final track "IEIEI" is bearable, in time, and melodic, and would be even better without the pointless 'bash those pots and pans' outro.

In the current loose overly-raw state, I can't stand it, and I'm slightly surprised I've written quite so much. I don't mean to be such a spoil-sport, and in a way I'm slightly sorry for taking this all out in a White Denim review, seeing as there are currently hundreds of bands surrounded in hype that in my opinion, then it comes down to it, don't deserve it.

I know some people, (apparently a lot of people) will like this, but I'm sad to announce I'm not one of them. Call me old fashioned but I like music with melody throughout. Melody really is a fundamental part of music. Think of art. And think of modern art. Based on that, White Denim are modern music.

I'm not sure where this is going. So I'll stop.
www.whitedenimmusic.com

Thom Curtis

 
 

Weezer  - Red Album (Interscope)

How many times we’ll hear the footballing cliché “a game of two halves” trotted out on TV by some northern gimp pundit is anyone’s guess; but I’m sure all of the button-down-collar and tight slacks brigade would be hard pressed to avoid slipping it in somewhere if they were asked to review the new Weezer Album. 

Weezer spell out the albums theme and key sounds early, kicking off (ahem) with the swaggering, genre switching anthem The Greatest Man that Ever Lived, the band switches from spoken-word to pseudo-rap to frat-rock to high-camp, seemingly spontaneously, before diving into the lived-in and fuzzy polar opposite with their current single Pork and Beans. Basically; the theme is constant reflection and contemplation and the musical remit is cramming in as much versatility and complexity as possible into every element of almost every song. 

The achingly reminiscent Heart Songs recounts Rivers Cuomo’s discovery of Iron Maiden and Nirvana, his guilty pleasures listening to the radio (Terrance Trent D’Arby gets a name drop! Word!), growing up, starting a band and gaining confidence. Everybody Get Dangerous recounts Cuomo’s ‘dangerous’ youthful excesses, and comes complete with a huge shifting climax showcasing his vocal range as he worries about his children’s future. It’s incredibly slick and detailed stuff, mixing heavy overdubs with layers of vocals and meandering guitar and drum solos. 

The effect though, is wearing, and the album runs out of steam badly as some songs, Dreamin being a prime example, struggle under the sheer weight of ideas.  The killer point where the album breaks down, is when the band re-attempt a Pork and Beans-esque diversion with a slower, simpler and significantly shorter song.  With so many intense four to seven minute long epics, Thought I Knew needed to be neat, compact and interesting, but it ended up sounding like Bon Jovi ballad. Weak and monotonous, a lyrical void, it left me unfulfilled and unprepared for more power pop. Almost every time, the next track, Cold Dark World with its slow-burn dynamic had me reaching for the stop button. 

Ian Anderson

 
 

Lazenby – The Loft Years (206 Recordings/Absolute) 

Lazenby is comprised of Sarah Lazenby and a bunch of other musicians, clearly jumping of the Duffy last name bandwagon, although Lazenby bizarrely makes me think of American Christian rock. 

Album opener Listening To Joni is perhaps not quite the homage Ms Mitchell would appreciate, and seems to mention The Beautiful South’s album Blue is the Colour more than Joni’s work, but we get the point, albeit a slightly pretentious, look at the cool music I listen to point. 

There’s something about this album that sounds just a bit too slick and over-produced. The drums sound like they’ve been formulated on a drum machine that an actual kit, and seem to dominate every track. The brass section on some songs, which would’ve been a nice addition, is often over-shadowed or only given a very brief moment in the limelight. 

Sarah Lazenby certainly has the sultry vocals down  to a tee, but that appears to be all she can do, and as good as it is, it does began to tire by about track seven, and the lines between tracks begin to blur. 

Tired is a guitar and glockenspiel led heartbreak number that shows more promise, and showcases Sarah Lazenby’s warmer and more dulcet tones, building up into a wrenching ballad and by far the most interesting track on the album. 

If you enjoy a good pair of lungs and not much else, Lazenby hits the spot. However, it’s certainly not the whole package, and severely lacks the necessary components to make a complete album.
www.myspace.com/lazenby

Catriona Boyle

 
 

The Splendour – Best Way To Make Money (Tinyclan Records) 

Best Way To Make Money opens with Put Me Into Bed a somewhat schizophrenic track that lurches between waltzing, laidback verses and a more frantic, fast-paced chorus. Put Me Into Bed indeed. 

The rest of the album proceeds in a general indie-rock jaunty fashion, borrowing from the Kooks school of jangly guitar playing, more retro ska sounds from Madness on One Finger, and most certainly the Josh Homme vocal delivery style. 

The Splendour seem a little unsure as to what their niche is, flitting from 3 minute pop songs (Wrong) to prolonged guitar noodlings (Money) to quiet, thoughtful acoustic numbers (Missus). Versatile- yes, coherent- perhaps not so much.  

A pleasant enough listen, although the off-beat chords do begin to grate by the time track nine rolls along, and it sounds as though the lead singer is also losing interest as his vocals take on a lazy, slurred quality. Here’s hoping they find their way by the second album, as there are moments of real promise here.
www.myspace.com/thesplendourband

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Naturally7 – Ready II Fly (Absolute) 

After Jay-Z’s recent Glasto triumph perhaps it’s time all us indie kids started embracing different genres and not be as narrow-minded as one Mr N. Gallagher. So I’ve really tried to enjoy Naturally7’s (or Nat 7, if you’re a close personal friend), and their 18 track wonder Ready II Fly, but I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t quite make it to track 18. Or 12, for that matter.  

 However, as rap, r n b and hip hop goes, this is some of the more palatable stuff I’ve heard. It sounds genuine, unlike sugar-coated efforts from Kelly Rowland and the like, and some of the vocals owe more to gospel than ‘spittin’ rhymes’. There’s some clever vocal work on Open Your Eyes, and with minimal accompaniment they carry the track. It becomes evident why the need a rather large seven members when they’re providing the vocals and the accompaniment.  They don’t sing about the clichéd pimps and hos, and they seem to owe more to John Legend than Kayne West et al. Feel It (In The Air Tonight) – yes a Phil Collins cover- has to be believed to be heard, but actually isn’t half bad in an ironic sort of way, particularly the human beat-box drum imitation when the drums kick in.  

Reading the sleeve notes, it seems Naturally7 are nice chaps, all bigging up their wives, parents, and of course God. Their lyrics are accessible, and perhaps aimed at those who are looking for a little more from their music later in life. 

More Boyz II Men than Boyz ‘n the Hood, this is soft-core hip-hop, and is as smooth as…a very smooth thing. Their vocal harmonies are something to be marvelled at, but their sincerity does start to become a bit insipid, and it must take true dedication to make it to track 18. Teenage girls and women who went to the Take That reunion tour will love it, true hip-hop fans will hate it, boy bands need to watch that this man band doesn’t steal their crown, and as for Jay-Z, he’s got 99 problems but a pitch ain’t one. (Sorry.)
www.myspace.com/naturally7

Catriona Boyle

 
 

The Corrections - Repeat After Me (EMI)

Creating a unique yet haunting electro sound The Corrections are a band very much in the mould of such bands as The Editors and We Are Scientists. Playing Melodic Indie rock with a lot of atmospherics and ambience, this band’s music would not be out of place being played to stadia full of people. Even though the music seems to have a dark element to it, the lyrics are very upbeat and have a huge variation to them. This can be attributed to front man Joe Winter, who is clearly influenced by “The Smiths” iconic front man Morrissey, with lyrics having a very ’Smiths’ feel to them. It is clear why EMI wanted to get this band signed while they are still fresh and young . ‘Repeat After Me’ is going to be the band’s first full length and is sure to receive critical acclaim. The obvious next step will be touring the UK and maybe even further afield, doing headline tours.
www.myspace.com/thecorrectionsband

Tim Birkbeck

 
 

5 O'Clock Heroes - 'Speak Your Language' (Glaze)

Album opener 'Judas' kicks things off smartly enough, with a barrage of double-timed drumming and what sounds very like a flute complementing the jittery guitaring. A good tune but far from the best track on 'Speak Your Language', and over the next twelve songs the 5 O' Clock Heroes make a pretty strong case for a longer TV slot than the five or so minutes C4's Green Room provided them with.

Fact is, there are actually around five potential singles on this album, and second track 'New York Chinese Laundry' presses all the right buttons. As does next track 'Who' which features Mancunian supermodel Agyness Deyn (it says on my Yahoo search) as a guest duettist. There are however quite definitely two sides to 'Speak Your Language'. The first is a mainstream-friendly album which wants to find its way onto the soundtrack of some angst ridden teenage drama or other, underscoring slammed doors and meaningful stares.

The other side to this wholesome poppiness is an altogether grittier creature, as shown on the album's title track, on final track 'Grab Me', and to quite some effect on the reggae stomp of 'Don't Say Don't' which has the Heroes venturing into 2-Tone territory in a style which very few bands can comfortably manage nowadays, harking back as it does to some of the edgier sides of late 70s New Wave. But experimentation aside, the summery jangle of 'Everybody Knows It' is probably the strongest indication of what the Heroes are really hiding up their sleeves and importantly, they sound as if they're smiling.

Jon Gordon

 
 

Rotary Ten - These are Our Own Hands

Lincoln four-piece Rotary Ten release their debut album with the hope that it will springboard them into mainstream success. And who can blame them after rave reviews of previous singles ‘Time is Not a Line...’ and ‘We Travelled without Mentioning It’. It’s easy to see where this initial excitement comes from, because overall, ‘These are Our Hands’ is a great collection of catchy, scatty alternative rock tunes that will leave even the most dysphoric of people, grinning contently. Rotary Ten truly have brought us a confident debut, yet not an arrogant one. In addition it’s a complex debut, but not an overwhelming one from the point of view of the listener. Therefore, ultimately ‘These Are Our Own Hands’ is a true winner. ‘We Travelled Without Mentioning It’ is clearly a highlight, brimming with its intelligent licks and pulsating bass lines. Whereas ‘Strategy’ sees an almost new Rotary Ten musically, further highlighting their intelligence and diversity as a band.

However, with this skill and creativity come the consequential downfalls: Every song is a copy of the other. True, Rotary Ten truly have found their niche, and the perfect sound for them, however, it’s been used to the death on ‘These Are Our Hands’. By the final twangs on ‘Don’t Lean on the Wires’, I’ve been lethargic for over 10 minutes. Sad to admit it, but ‘These Are Our Hands’ is truly dull. Where Good Shoes and Dartz left off, Rotary Ten seem to have continued- albeit it not as well. Where Good Shoes gave us ‘Morden’ and ‘Photos on My Wall’ Rotary Ten have given us...well, nothing as good frankly. And as for the denouement, I sadly recall the last band of any importance to emerge from Lincoln... Anyone remember 22-20’s...yes, you’re thinking what I’m thinking- ended in a bit of a sticky mess didn’t it.
 

Sean Phillips

 

The Blakes - s/t (Light In The Attic)

I can just imagine the weeks if not months of late night discussions which went into the production of this album. Something along the lines of ' right, what we want is one that sounds like Arctic Monkeys, one that sounds like the Libertines, one that sounds like the Hives, one that sounds like Razorlight, one that sounds like one from Razorlight's second album, one that's a bit Franz ...' and on and on over the 13 tracks of The Blakes eponymous debut album.

Which is a far more enjoyable listen than it might've been. Trouble is though, inviting listeners to play 'spot the riff and vocal styling' detracts somewhat from who and what the Blakes actually are, which is an energetic and talented power trio, albeit one attempting to cover one too many bases in the inspiration department.

So what we're left with is an album whose real highlights are weirdly like demos from some very well known bands, ones which are household names to a generation of UK music fans, and as the bands bio reveals a very definite rootlessness - The Blakes apparently hailing from Maine, Seattle and Alaska - noses will begin to twitch at some point. These weirdly accurate pastiches of practically every influential US and UK band of the previous 5 or so years (with the notable exception of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), one or two of them do sound eerily accurate. Are there really only three Blakes? They are definitely in some interesting company, as support act to the Brian Jonestown Massacre's series of UK dates - and exactly what Barrow In Furness is going to make of that show I can only speculate - so perhaps more is definitely less from these highly accurate artful dodgers.

Anyone unable to make the journey up to Cumbria can go to :
http://www.myspace.com/theblakes
Also, anyone unable to find a copy of the BJMs frankly majestic 'Bravery Repetition & Noise' album can find tracks from it here:
http://www.myspace.com/egremontplace

Jon Gordon

 

TV Smith - 'In The Arms Of My Enemy' (Boss Tuneage)

TV Smith has written a great song. It's a festival-rousing, mandolin-busting, thumping great country folk anthem. And it takes up the first five tracks of 'In The Arms Of My Enemy', sounding like a deliberately crafted mini-opera of sorts, and one with several axes to grind. Whether attacking consumerism (Get It Now), tackling the environment (It's Warming Up) or fending off unwanted liggers (Backstage Bob), TV Smith and his band spend the first twenty minutes of ITAOME revisiting the vituperative snarls of three decades ago with the confidence of experienced musicians who know where to find a comfy bar stool in Nashville. You might not know that TV Smith fronted 77 front line punks The Adverts (they turn up on TOTP2 occasionally), and while this piece of trivia isn't essential knowledge to appreciate ITAOME, it certainly adds an element of depth to the incisive lyrics and barely concealed anger of the first part of this CD. It isn't difficult to imagine numbers such as 'Get It Now' and 'Together Alone' reconfigured as two chord thrashalongs.

Things slow down a bit with 'I Wish I Could See Clearly', where Smiths lyrics take an introspective breathing space, with added accordion. And the title track recalls both Spaghetti Western soundtracks and the agit-folk of the late 80s although around here the lyrics veer into romanticised prole sentiments which ring a little hollow. Is it really a life in music or the Jobcentre for this well-accredited country folk scenester? Certainly, something isn't working in the Smith camp, whatever the reason.

This is a minor hiccup though as it's on the next track that the opposing currents in Smiths array of talents properly gel. 'Clone Town' is definitely a finest moment for both Smith and his band, featuring a blistering piece of lead guitar work from Tim Renwick, and is easily the album's highlight, and leave the CD running to hear a hidden 14th track, an improvised brass noise which actually made me jump (slightly), a clear indication of more folk noise in the can from a pretty committed bunch of musicians.

So, ITAOME has TV Smith doing exactly what everyone expects him to, and doing it with a panache designed to silence even his fiercest critics. Only rock n roll though innit?
www.myspace.com/tvsmith
www.tvsmith.com

Jon Gordon

 
 

Bonnie "Prince" Billie - Lie Down in the Light (Domino)

He's had one of his songs covered by Johnny Cash, had a cameo appearance in R. Kelly's 'Trapped in the Closet' and is generally revered as one of the finest songwriters of his generation, as well as a true gent - so its not like Will Oldham's got anything to prove by this point. Its hard to imagine where he could go on this record that he hasn't already been. The answer seems to be to go back to basics. Immediately, the songs sound more 'country' than of late and even by his standards this is a stripped-down record. That's not to say there's a lack of instruments, its just that when the organ, fiddle, drums or whatever come in, they come in so slightly, like a whisper, giving the songs a supportive tap on the shoulder but no more. This is one hell of a quiet record, and in a weird way its all the more intense for it, putting all the emphasis on Oldham's voice. And yet, about half way through you realise; this is his big happy, summery pop record. At times the lyrics, like on 'You remind me of something (the glory goes)', are actually quite uplifting. Celebratory even. Its just that Oldham has the sort of smacked puppy voice which is more suited to tragic 4am laments like 'Another day full of dread'  than the chirpier stuff on this album. For better or worse he's cursed with a singing style that'd make 'Twinkle twinkle little star' sound like a bittersweet tale of regret and wasted opportunities. It would still sound fantastic, mind.

Andy Glynn

 

Adem - Takes (Domino)

Covers records. Eye-opening Insight into the songs that inspired and moulded the artist or the   equivalent of 'Dude, l've just learnt the riff to Freebird' ? Lo-fi songwriter Adem's third album seems to sit somewhere in the middle. Featuring his take on songs by Yo la Tengo, dEUS, the Smashing Pumpkins and a surprisingly soft and twinkly Aphex Twin medley. The immediate problem is that the choice of songs are (Aphex aside) all very much from the 'cool, indie' bracket and rarely venture far from his safety zone. Its debatable whether the world was crying out for a slightly glitchier version of PJ Harvey's 'Oh my lover' for example. There's nothing here that really makes you go, 'Wow, you're influenced by them? Really?' Its actually on the less well-known songs (Anyone remember Bedhead?) which grab your attention more, but that might just be because I'm not as familiar with the originals. Its an album that definitely makes me want to seek out more Adem, but less keen to have him show me his record collection.
Watch Adem covering 'Hotel Lounge' by dEUS

Andy Glynn

 
 

Wintermute - Fun with Wizard Stencils (On the Bone)

It's hard to talk about this mini-album from Leeds rockers Wintermute without breaking out the geometry set: 'angular', 'sharp', jagged', urm... 'isoceles?' Guitars stop and start, cut and jab like a robot knifefight. The spectre of classic old-school emo (Refused, ATDI, a bit of Fugazi) lurks in the background throughout, especially in the vocal delivery, but its a very 2008 take on it. At times Wintermute sound like a teenage band who've stopped playing Hundred Reasons covers in their parent's garage and started going clubbing instead. Their influences stand out a mile, but while the pieces are familiar, they've been dis-assembled and put back together in interesting new formations, like an autistic's lego set. There's perhaps a bit too much of the obligatory four-to-the-floor disco beat, which must be the first thing they teach at drum lessons these days, but it'd be unfair to single this band out for that since they're hardly the only culprits. Occasionally Wintermute are blindly poppy, sometimes they're geeky and impenetrable - I'm still not sure exactly what I think of them. This isn't necessarily a classic Album, but its a curio, and a hint that somewhere down the line they could do great things.

Andy Glynn

 

Liquid Liquid - Slip in and out of Phenomenon (Domino)

There's a lot to be said for not reading press releases. I was all ready to call this record, with its frantic Funkadelic-in-a-bedsit jams, one of the most exciting records of 2008 when I happened to glance at the accompanying  record company guff... 1981! This is from 1981? Bands like the Rapture, CSS et all are busting their arses trying to make a record like this, and this lot did it 27 years ago! Needless to say I feel like a right numpty for not having heard of them. To be fair there are clues to this album's vintage; the occasional 'John Lydon in PIL' screech here, a Talking Heads drumbeat there, but still, it sounds so bloody 'modern'. Its jam band prog-funk, but jam band prog-funk played by grotty CBGB's kids. It may be amongst the funkiest album ever made by white men. Unless you can't tell, I love it, especially the times where they start to sound slightly like the Sex in the city theme, (which I probably shouldn't be able to recognise) if it were set in Hades as opposed to Manhattan. And... 'Cavern' is the sample Grandmaster Flash used in 'White Lines', you know, the best bassline ever. That one. I'll say it again for effect: Its the bassline from motherfucking White Lines. Go out and buy this.

Andy Glynn

 
 

Sonny - The Spirit of Elegy

Igniting a spiralling vortex of blissful sounds and delicately ambient drones, Sonny’s most recent effort offers no less than a soothing melting pot of lush melodies and hypnotic charm. With idyllic tones and disturbingly tranquil vocals, each song is a masterpiece in its own right, sparkling in unison as the album pulls together, creating a mess of sound so perfectly peaceful and powerful - to cease listening simply isn’t an option.

Songs such as ‘Light Houses for The Desolate” are flawless, created by encapsulating the talent and energy of acts such as Patrick Wolf and the faultless Sigur Ros, whilst offering a somewhat elitist musical relationship with the listener that no other act could merely imagine.

This ten-track wonder excites the heart and enhances emotions, creating an atmospheric twist unachievable by so many of Sonny’s peers. Offering the enamouring juxtaposition of being both soulful and leaving the listener somewhat empty, Sonny twists each song with a sparkle so seemingly spiritual, each song is left with a haunting glow. Something with such melancholy beauty shouldn’t be left in the dark. All we need now is the light.

Olivia Jaremi

 

Secondsmile - Years (BSM)

Second albums come synonymous with the difficult patch in a bands career. It’s general knowledge, hammered into the minds of the common music fan by the relentless music press. But is it really true?

One listen in on Secondsmile’s Years, and it’d be hard to assume so. With effortlessly crisp guitar riffs and snarling lyrics, expectations have been raised, and boundaries pushed to their limits. Each song has its own individual edgy attraction, and as a collective, Secondsmile effortlessly put bands such as Foals to shame.

With a sound so insanely exciting and fast-paced, their eclectic charm is sure to turn hearts and win over legions of fans on their forthcoming tour with many established acts of whom Secondsmile could easily cast into the dark. Songs such as title-track Years with their eloquently catchy quality shine intensively, embossing the melodies into the brains of the listener, and their excellence into their hearts

Praise the Lord, the unthinkable has happened! Secondsmile have made even Dorset seem cool!

Olivia Jaremi

 
 

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape - A Blue Imagine

Valuable lesson number 1: never judge a band by their name, no matter what kind of reference it may be.

Just a glance at the band’s name and a perplexing mixture of shock and horror flits across the face of the listener. Just a listen to the band’s first track ‘A Blue Image’ and such face is obliterated and replaced by that of an irrepressible smile. Clocking in at an impressive 8 minutes, attention is kept at a steady pace, and the prospect of boredom couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each progression is as exciting as the other, with a mixture of indie, art rock and general awesome-ness creating an E.P so mesmeric, the listener is left begging for more. ‘Ten Years’ drags slightly slower, yet still adds to the excitement and anticipation of each subsequent song. ‘Autumn’ is slightly more relaxed, with ‘Fall Away’ bringing the pace back up once again.

Valuable lesson number 2: never dismiss What’s Eating Gilbert Grape as anything less than excellence.

Olivia Jaremi

 
 

Oh Laura - A Song Inside My Head A Demon In My Bed

Sweden. All the best things come from Sweden. Just go to IKEA and prove me wrong.

If mind-blowingly awesome home-furnishings wasn’t enough for you, maybe Oh Laura will be. Frida Öhrn’s frighteningly beautiful lyricism swirls up a beautiful array of majestic melodies and delicate musicianship, and we’re just at the first track.

Then, what went wrong? From A Call To Arms onwards, the albums sinks into an unforgiving road of a brilliant opener, and painfully inoffensive successors. Whereas boring isn’t quite the right word, interesting isn’t either. Slightly better than mediocre, significantly less than the achievement of greatness, it seems as A Song Inside My Head A Demon In My Head was created more as a race to finish and release a debut rather than create a stunning piece of music.

It’s not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s the epitome of background music, nothing more or nothing less. And whilst that isn’t a bad thing, it can be and has been done better before. There’s better background music than this, but luckily for the Swedes, there isn’t a better furnishings retailer. Don’t worry, your pride is still intact.

Olivia Jaremi

 

CSS - Donkey

We should have noticed the signs when CSS started previewing album opener ‘Jager Yoga’ festivals last summer. Lovefoxxx’s promise of less ‘dirty’ lyrics and a more solid sound seemed like an average learning curve for a band that came to our attention with such naivety.

How did a band who came to the world with song titles such as ‘Music is my hot hot sex’ now write the lyrics “I know/I know/I know he will never heart you again”? Indie fodder for Kooks fans who couldn’t take three minutes of CSS screaming “CSS suxxx” at the start of their last album. Musically the focus has moved onto guitars, there’s very little to comment on. And when there’s little to comment on ‘boring’ springs to mind. After the textured variety festival which was their debut their charm is gone along with their accents and their native tongue never rears her seductive head. It’s not that Lovefoxxx shouldn’t write lyrics but “Every night/Every day/It just seems so hard to explain” would seem a lot better if I couldn’t understand them. The scratchy Baile Funk sound championed by MIA and developed in CSS’ homeland also got lost somewhere mid-2007. A smooth ‘rock’ production method is its replacement and because of it, ‘Donkey’ is more 2D than 24th century ‘nu-rave’ madness.

Very few of the tracks will sit comfortably next to their old offerings. The ‘get your jig on’ attitude rarely reaches the hips either. It’s a shame that Cansei de Ser Sexy (in translation: “I’m tired of being sexy”) have matured to represent their name, once ironic now a fine description.

Nick Burman

 

The Watson Twins - Fire Songs (Vanguard Records)

The Watson Twins first came to prominence on their excellent 2006 collaboration with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, Rabbit Fur Coat. Their innate ability to sing razor-close harmonies resulted in a timeless album with songs from the rich and warm to the dark and sinister. 

The identical twins originate from Louisville, Kentucky, and found their musical home in Silverlake, Los Angeles; home to masters of harmony Elliott Smith and Beck. Their first solo EP Southern Manners, together with a heavy promotional diary, helped to push them into the US mainstream, with appearances on the David Letterman show and a Billboard magazine cover. Of course, musical success isn’t really achieved in the US until your music has been used on one of the numerous identikit quarter-life-crisis sitcoms. The twins achieved this with the song Time of My Life being used as a backdrop in Grey’s Anatomy. 

What’s next for an artist when they’ve achieved all this in two years? The only reasonable option for any self-declared indie group is to go back to the start. Go analogue, strip everything back and record an album of simple, acoustic tracks. So here we are with Fire Songs. 

Brilliantly, it seems that rather than rushing to capitalise on their success, the girls have taken a step back to write some really strong material for their second solo release. Album opener How Am I To Be is familiar Rilo Kiley/Fleetwood Mac territory with its twinkly pianos and jangly guitars, but it’s expertly performed.  

Fall takes you a bit by surprise, and is definitely more in the Elliott Smith school of heartbreak. You can almost imagine Elliott nodding his head to the dark cello and drum lead chorus. The song’s dripping with angst and I defy anyone not to be drawn in. 

A Neil Young inflected cover of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven keeps the album ticking along nicely, while the light melodies of Bar Woman Blues disguise the melancholy tales of life’s losers huddled around a back street bar: “There’s a gambler whose fortune has faded, and someone who’s loved and then hesitated”. The title track Old Ways – Fire Song sounds like it was pulled from the deep Kentucky soil with its talk of devils, angels and wild fire. 

This is a great album that draws influence from a group of seriously talented artists. Expect to hear the Watson Twins backing your favourite American TV show soon.

Chris Moffatt 

 
 

Various - The First Brainwash Compilation (Children No More)

The beast of NewProg lowers menacingly over this 14 track sampler from the Leeds based Children No More label. That and the darting shadow of (whatever happened to ...?)PostRock, as conceived by Slint and brought forth upon the land by their numberless acolytes. And some folk and electronics, plus one or two actually unclassifiable moments. But there is no denying, the mood of 'Brainwash' is, taken as a whole, undeniably HEAVY, in a Kerrang stylee. Such as Red Star Parade's 'Jack O' Knives', Youthmovie's 'Shh! You'll Wake It', and Dinosaur Pile-Ups 'I Get My Direction From ...'. These bands are composed of long haired and bearded individuals who wear Megadeath t-shirts and play Jackson and BC Rich guitars, and to quite some effect, particularly when blurring the edges of the Heavier elements of their tunes and morphing into altogether more reflective muso ramblings, such as Vessels 'Clear And Calm'.

Jetplane Landing provide a perky slice of sk8er rock and Paul Marshall has an innovative acoustic style. randomNumber's 'Crosets' is a drum&bass workout mangled through a broken protools station, but These Monster's 'Fleets Of Black Hovercraft Anchored In Space' is, without question, an epic, a truly gargantuan instrumental clocking in at around eight minutes and sounding as if it could go on for around eighty more. Awesome stuff replete with guitar choruses and crescendos, from the soundtrack to an as yet unscripted scifi movie.

I don't think I'm the only person who might want to hear Jonquil's 'Lions' in its entirety, but that moment will arrive exactly when it's supposed to. CNM are definitely onto something and for anyone wanting to hear some inspired new (post? prog? metal?) sounds, the Brainwash boffins have pretty well come up with the goods here.
http://www.myspace.com/childrennomorerecords

Jon Gordon

 
 

The Beat Maras - Bat and the Astral Phoenix (Jezus Factory)

Rich in outdated guitar riffs and classic rock rhythms, I struggle to find a place for this album by the Beat Maras. This debut by the bands harks back to a bygone time before my birth and a style which now seems to not really succeed in the current musical climate. The album, full of self indulgent guitar playing, with riffs you'd be ecstatic to find down your local the album is bland and outdated. Nothing sticks out with any interest and the guitars become insipid and dull. There will be people who will like this but finding them and making this album a profitable success to me would seem impossible in a generation of music savvy fans.

Gareth Ludkin

 
 

The Dodos - Visiter (Wichita)

This is a great debut album from San Francisco duo The Dodos. Packed full of exciting tunes and full frontal songs The Dodos have produced an album worth taking note of. Having never heard of the Dodos before I was very excited to hear this album and discover this band. Track two for me Red and Purple, their previous single is an absolute highlight of the album, an energetic and intriguing song, euphoric and progressive it is a great example of their song writing talents. Great melodies, which are fresh and interesting is what you can expect from the Dodos and to be honest you'd expect nothing less from the excellent Wichita who always bring the best of the US to the UK shores. A great album, complete and varied it's well worth picking up.

Gareth Ludkin

 

Various - Life Beyond Mars, Bowie Covered

Granted David Bowie was well before my time and true I have limited song knowledge of Bowie's work. However I feel an objective point of view is needed on this album. I'm often very apprehensive with these cover version albums, especially when focusing on one particular artist, especially when the artist is David Bowie, a truly progressive musician and artist. For me I feel that this and so many other cover albums before have lost sight of the origins of the music in the first place. Sure its an interpretation but this album is so varied and the approaches are so different when coming from the various artists featured. The album just fails to knit together as I would have liked. Perhaps a more extensive knowledge of Bowie's music would have been helpful in my appreciation and don't get me wrong there are some undeniably great songs on this album with their electronic tilt, which seem complementary to Bowie's often surrealist ideals but at the same time the true Bowie. For me at least is lost, maybe I'm too young.
www.lifebeyondmars.com

Gareth Ludkin