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  albums - aug 2008


Kitsuné Tabloid – Mixed by Digitalism

The first in what will hopefully be a long running collection of mixes brought to us by hip French label Kitsuné puts a microphone into Digitalism’s record box. The outcome is the first essential mix of the year for electro enthusiasts – and those new to the sound.

Featuring 25 tracks averaging to about two and a half minutes each this doesn’t skimp on the good stuff. Sweaty [Shazam remix] by Muscles is the first track to really make your kitchen seem like Ibiza. If you’re on the look out for hot tips to make your mates think you’re a new music maestro then brilliant tracks from The Presets, Late of the Pier, Holy Ghost!, Hercules & Love Affair and even Digitalism themselves will make you seem you know what you’re talking about. This isn’t electro by numbers, though, nor is it a band wagon to jump on. Zombie Nation seams into the Human League while the smutty, acapella version of Spank Rock’s ‘Put That Pussy on Me’ folds out of ‘Cowbois’ by Shadow Dancer – a party hit just waiting to be.

Even if dance music isn’t your ‘thing’ Digitalism make such an eclectic package it will almost definitely get you into it. Along with Simian Mobile Disco and Justice they’re almost certain to join the pantheon of new dance acts ready to reinvent a already throbbing genre. If only their debut reflected such exciting times

Kitsuné have pulled another essential collection out of their big bag of intelligent dance music, it even makes Calvin Harris sound essential.

Nick Burman


The Outline – You Smash It, We’ll Build Around It (30:30 Recordings) 

The Outline kick off in fairly sinister fashion with echoey guitars and a creeping industrial drumbeat before launching into wall of noise heaviness and larynx-lacerating vocals. From this I was cautiously optimistic without being won over just yet. The second track ‘Life or Life-Like’ is an altogether more familiar sounding rock song with splurges of electronica weaved in for good measure, not bad. Track three arrives and they’re starting to lose me, not a bad song by any means but nothing leaping out.  

The next three songs are similarly forgettable with the singer trying his best (perhaps too hard) but not making anything stick. The lyrics don’t help their cause: “Maybe if I punch you in the face you’ll know this is real”. Yeah, subtle. Just when I’m ready to write them off  ‘In Light of Recent News’ offers some hope with its slower pace seeming to suit the singer. Nonetheless, they proceed to disappear into the angry, unfocused ‘Sloppy Drunk’ and the moment is lost.  

‘Perfect for the Plain’ is the undoubted highlight here. Built around a jaunty piano riff with catchy chorus the band suddenly find their groove and develop the song confidently. Yet again though they lose the momentum with the unremarkable ‘Tragic Times’. 

All in all then I was pretty disappointed with this album. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible, the songs (apart from ‘Perfect for the Plain’) just don’t leave much of an impression. I guess that’s why they call them The Outline. 

Richard Ash   


X-Press 2 – Raise Your Hands (Greatest Hits) 

Acid House has never been one of my more favoured dance genres. Large sections of drum build-ups usually climax into a mass hysteria of keyboard squeals and big bass riffs.

Put into no particular order other than what (I’m guessing) just sounds good, within all the high profile collaborations (David Byrne, Rob Harvey, Tim DeLaughter) XP2’s  progression from12” floor fillers to bona fide artists (see second album Makeshift Feelgood) gets lost. The tracks from the first CD aren’t mixed, either, so the possible beat connections aren’t utilised.

New one ‘Fire’ featuring Africa Bambaataa showcases a grimier approach to the classic, yet now aging, floor fillers such as ‘Smoke Machine’ and ‘Rock 2 House’.

If you’re willing to find out about X-Press 2 then purchase an album (there’s only two to choose from) or some vintage 12” singles. A lazy best-of which does nothing to educate you in the growing of this great Acid House group 20 years on from the start of the two decade party. Everyone’s woken up looking worse for ware and X-Press 2 are no exception. This collection certainly didn’t get me into house.

Nick Burman


Black Affair – Pleasure Pressure Point 

It’s always fun to get a record with nothing other than the track listing and title of the project. You get the feeling this is how Black Affair want you to approach them. After slow burning opener ‘ppp’, ‘It Goes like This’ has a hypnotising groove in it. Whether they want you or not, you’re going to dance by the end of this track.

Much of the album throws up images of the Sisters of Mercy, you couldn’t do the washing up to this without smashing a few through the window first. Every other track starts off with the minimalist industrial ‘thang’ which makes me think “oh God, how’s this going to turn out?” and yet it just keeps on surprising with dark bass lines and punctuated drums. His voice resonates with the echoes of many new wave bands which obviously pride themselves as inspiration.

Last year’s ‘Tak! Attack!’ is perhaps the weakest song on the album, in terms of sound and structure. This adds to the hypothesis that Black Affair will only get better with time. Let’s hope this is true because that will make Black Affair saviours of glossy pops ugly alter ego.

You don’t need to know anything about this record – other than it’s: dark, brooding and will see you become a waistcoat wearing new-new romantic within minutes.  

Nick Burman


Antennas To Heaven - 'Hermenuetics' 

Not everyone is going to like 'Hermenuetics'. I'm not certain exactly why. Actually I do know why. It is a matter of songwriting. One part of what Antennas To Heaven are doing is great epic pop balladry. But that can only account for less than half the sum of the parts which make up 'Hermenuetics'. The rest of it goes something like - vast swathes of instrumentalism which avoid overlaying the tunes with too much in the way of effects such as distortion, reverb, delay etc although these are present.  Then there's a bloke talking during parts of the album and I don't catch exactly everything he says, sort of surreal vignettes of northern life in which even a visit to the local newsagent can prove the start of a bafflingly obtuse series of circumstances. Meanwhile the instrumentation takes definite turn towards actual 80s FM rock, which is different, if little else, and highlights some of the more cinematic elements of the earlier part of the album. 

Some people will not like 'Hermenuetics'. Partly because Antennas To Heaven are a little self conciously 'clever' in a way that some people don't always appreciate. That and their odd resemblances to bands like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Toto - just the ballady stuff though, not the power epic motorway anthems which are often associated with US bands of the late 70s/early 80s. 

I am going to listen to 'Hermenuetics' again. Probably in October.

Jon Gordon 


Autodrone - Strike A Match (Clairecords) 

I got this album directly from Autodrone on a CDr with the track listing written on the back of a shop receipt. I've never heard of RiteAid before, and I hadn't heard anything of Autodrone until recently. And while only US readers of this are able to do their shopping at that particular store chain, a lot of people everywhere are going to hear about Autodrone, and soon. 

Mixing proto-industrial electronics with densely guitared wall of sound pop sensibilities, Autodrone make a glorious noise on each of 'Strike A Match's twelve tracks. Add to this aural bombardment the operatic swoop of Katherine Kennedy's vocal and the New York quartet can do very little wrong. Fourth track 'Kerosene Dreams' highlights this mixture of styles utilising thunderous blasts of controlled feedback and off-kilter electronics, and seguing almost seamlessly into into the blissfully atmospheric 'A Rose Has No Teeth' a song drenched with soaring chords and some smartly turned out double timed drumming.

The wistful and almost folkish title track contains some hidden barbs of its own and a heartbreakingly beautiful vocal that will remain in your memories long after you've heard it (unless of course you buy the album). 

The key to Autodrones ability is, paradoxically, their lack of finesse. Where their musicianship could slide into over fussed arrangements Autodrone aren't afraid to grit their teeth and let us hear exactly what they want us to. Their blend of electronica and guitar energy recalls Throwing Muses at their most overwhelming, and Autodrone are only just getting started. 

Jon Gordon


Marion Square – Draw The Line

A competent, if unspectacular, debut LP from this Kentucky alt-rock foursome is lifted by a superior vocal performance from the marvellously named McCall Cruse. Rarely has a solid collection of folk-rock arrangements served as little more than a scaffold for a voice; here, Cruse's alternately angsty then fragile delivery, best showcased on the chorus of 'Shaken'. In places, her celtic edge and the double-tracking sounds too close to Andrea Corr for comfort, but the moment passes and her resemblance to closer cousins Alanis Morrissette and Odi wins through.

The opening song - and title track - certainly bears some resemblance to Odi's 'Crawl', while snippets of sax and dreamy electric guitar generate an upbeat lounge vibe in "Another Day". Simple acoustic strumming and mid-tempo drum patterns predominate elsewhere and its hard to avoid the impression that the band are largely going through the motions in places, rather than pushing their boundaries (worrying for a new band, all in their twenties).

An instrumental section on 'Restless' begins with a promising blues solo but disintegrates into a mess of incoherent, out-of-place turntabling and harmonics, before Cruse returns to build the song from scratch. More effective is the howling intro to 'Shaken' and the fuzzy funk that kicks off 'Always On Your Side', although in both instances, the ubuqitous acoustic strumming quickly follows.

To give the band due credit, they clearly know their strength, and take care to arrange the songs around Cruse's powerful voice and largely astute lyrics (passing over the trite chorus of 'Back To Reality' for a moment). But even the best of singers need something distinctive and innovative on the stage with them and, as the great Yoda would know, a few seconds of turntabling action here and there does not a distinctive sound make.

Chris McCague


Team Rockit – Rockit Science (Fire Tone Records)

Following their own immaculately honed version of the KISS principle (that's 'Keep It Simple Stupid' for the uninitiated), this Chicago 3-piece have made a bit of an impression in Continental Europe with their straight-up power-pop/rock. The hooks are big and loud, the drums bombastic and the vocals reference the song title endlessly, just in case you had doubts about which track you were listening to.

Highlights inlcude 'Devil's Tattoo', a bastard cousin of 'Great Balls Of Fire' that clocks in at a measly 93 seconds, and the sophisticated lyrical interplay of 'String of Pearls'. Yep - just kidding. Witness: "Your body is hot. I don't wanna dance. But I'll do what it takes to get on your pants".

And in the interests of getting off the stage and out of their lederhosen in record time, after just 25 minutes Team Rockit's entire LP calls it quits - barely enough time for a seasoned mosher to work up a sweat. But if you all need is a warm-up disc for Saturday night at the rock club, you could do far worse.

Chris McCague


Nigel Clothier – Book Of Days (Leftarm Records)

It's funny how you never really can tell where a person comes from while they're singing. Nigel Clothier hails from England's North West, but you could be forgiven for hearing echoes of Americana in his warm, rich tones and timeless folk harmonies. For producer Fran Ashcroft, this is quite a departure from his work with Damon Albarn and the Dandy Warhols, but he has preserved the simple, clean integrity of Clothier's musicianship throughout using uncluttered arrangements. And with no other egos in the room (Clothier plays all the instruments), the focus is melody, melody, melody.

Such a surfeit of pretty choruses and intimate storytelling won't be to everyone's taste, and no concessions are made to any naysayers. As 'Hanging Out' proclaims: "cheesy music... stinking out the house again / I'd rather hear your story about a boy hanging down from a tree". Even the supposedly honky-tonk 'Exceptin' A Beach' comes across as laid-back, despite the social commentary and ragtime segments.

Clothier saves the best - and simplest - song for last, stripping 'Little English' back to little more than sequences of piano chords and a stirring lyric. With its moody edge and powerful refrain, it hits a spot that most of these songs struggle to reach, overburdened as they are with trying to be a little too beautiful for their own good.

Chris McCague


Death To Anders – Fictitious Business (independently released)

The bleak, weathered industrial look, a mainstay of alternative rock packaging, suits this angular, unpredictable album well. Like a train journey that crosses from serenity to urban decay and back again in mere seconds, the songs here veer from ponderous, low-key phrases to saturation point without a word of warning.

The chord changes, low-strung electric arpeggios and feedback create some intriguing moments of dystopia, not least on 'Great Plains States', which seems a fairly jaunty slice of radio-friendly country rock until the big beats, cymbals and rasping guitar licks tear apart your cochleas at the three-and-a-half-minute mark.

'Man of 1000 Regrets' comes on in more subdued fashion as softer, boyish vocals float over shifting Peter Buck-style patterns. But the peace is short lived as the song goes wild a la Pixies for maybe 12 seconds before the calm returns. These guys are no shoegazers.

Most song here have at least two "acts". The mysterious 'Dark Bathrooms' could be a folk-tinged Radiohead from their awkward 'Kid A' phase, before giving way to fuzzy guitar riffs and a claustrophobic wall of whistling for an outro. And this progression, while looking damn strange on paper, is achieved without seeming forced or nonsensical.

In addition to the bold dynamics, the octave or so between the vocals of the two frontmen (Rob Danson and Nick Ceglio), together with the imaginative lyrics, provide further reasons to delve in to this rather affecting sonic portrait of the 'wrong' side of town. Because in the darkest, most forboding places, there is always great beauty to be found.

Chris McCague


93 Million Miles From The Sun - s/t

What anyone writing about music nowadays really should try and avoid is simplistic pigeonholing of bands into little boxes marked 'genre', partly because it has actually got more difficult to do this. Bands and the musicians who form them are as inventive and talented as they've ever been, and when a band takes on board some well-referenced influences and redeploys them into something barely recognisable, while at the same time quite definitely asserting their own talents, the results are very often greater than the influences which began this process. Such as with this twelve track opus of structure, skill, and irredeemable rock noise.

93 Million miles From The Sun have created a masterpiece which defies easy categorisation. Over an hour in length, these symphonies of abrasive ambience and incessant angst driven technological neurosis are the sound of a group only beginning to chart the measures of their own abilities and re-writing the sonic alphabet as they do so. 93 Million Miles From The Sun haven't spared either themselves or us here. The guitars are uncompromisingly distorted, the vocals understatedly muted. The production is expansive and the resultant epic grandeur is something few bands possess the courage to attempt nowadays. And hanging thickly over everything 93M are the unbroken clouds of the late 80s. As an entire genre of bands look back over two decades for the inspiration that some wonder technological overload has knocked out of guitar music then it's proper to reference a time when ProTools meant a Chorus AND a Flange pedal. But so many ideas from that period never really developed fully, as mockney britpop cheeriness overtook some of the more imposing trends of two decades ago. 93 Million Miles From The Sun must know they're setting themselves up for allegations of pretension, plagiarism and more. They also sound as if they know who's dealing out the clichés.

There are subtleties at work here on every level. First track 'The Times We Have Are Now' is the template for everything 93M are capable of and it is glorious, glacial sheets of keyboard giving way to an incessant drum pattern around which builds a swirling swaying wave of chorused and delayed riffs which spin a backlit hypnosis of repeated crescendos. And at around seven minutes 93M give themselves ample time to develop the track to its fullest conclusion. This approach continues over the next eleven tracks and second number 'Yesterday Morning' quickly demonstrates that 93M are very much more than just ambient droners. The pounding drumbeats which introduce this track declare it an altogether harder edged creature for make no mistake, 93M are a ROCK group, and as the rhythm patterns shift and collide across the distant vocal, the instrumentation stomps onwards remorselessly, like some kaleidoscopic thunderstorm that refuses to end. 'Gone For Today' takes a metallic techno start point and breaks into a soaring guitar riff which suddenly drops into a drum & bass noir frenzy, 'From Here' is proto-glam energy that rewrites the entire canon of early 70s excess, 'ElectroDroneStarr' is a sheer riot of white noise, and every track here sounds as if it would have been hailed as groundbreaking and startlingly original, were this 1989 and were 93M
the band Creation signed instead of Ride.

It's the sound of hazy summer evenings, of car headlights stretching off into infinity, of lasers and fireworks, of that painting you cannot afford, of the shapeless fractals that shape our lives in every direction. It's Spacemen 3 and the Bunnymen jamming in an industrial museum, produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and with visuals by Salvador Dali. It is 70 minutes of music that points exactly the direction that what we listen to is about to take.' 93 Million Miles From The Sun' is the best album of its kind since The Asteroid #4's 'An Amazing Dream', and that was, and is, quite a good one.

Jon Gordon


XX Teens – Welcome to Goon Island

The first thing that strikes you about XX Teens is their artwork; individual, grotesque sci-fi comic book style portraits of misshaped creatures and landscapes. So if you’ve downloaded the album already, you’re missing out – not to mention the lyric sheet which comes with the hard copy, which is helpful because at some points in this album the words get lost in the production mix. That, though, is the only problem with Goon Island.

XX Teens’ debut long player contains enough creativity, artistic endeavour and downright great lyrics to make tidal waves sweep over a mediocre Britain. While live they may not be showmen to the highest standard, when enough people hear these songs it won’t matter – because like a ‘proper’ band, the music says it all. There’s mind boggling attention to production detail and song structure as trumpets, synthesizers, samples and even sitars drizzle their late 60s New York sound with beauty while their wall of sound moments (‘Sun Comes Up’) really do hit you like a concrete flat.

‘Only You’ is their sole song which could top the charts – and what a chart topper it would be. Without trying to sound like hyperbole this is my song of the year to date. XX Teens offer us their most poetic lyrics: “there’s a hole in my head in the shape of your name/my senses’ starting to dull from the searing pain” and dive into a chorus which will send festival crowds of the future berserk. Like Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground and The White Stripes rolled into one giant ‘tuunneeee’.

Throughout all the influences you can reference in this album the Teens never come across as a covers act. A perfect example of past genius brought to the front of the scene by men who already know what they’re doing just eleven tracks into their career. Ska even makes a valid appearance with ‘Darlin’, and this is in the 21st Century, never thought I’d day that.

“See we’re a gang man/We’ve made some plans and/Well, you’re not in them” - get with them, invest in Goon Island. You may hate it; not get it and think of it as individual yet grotesque. If you like it or not you’re going to hear nothing but XX Teens until they give it all up, on the basis of this work that would be a bad bet.

Nick Burman


Chemical Brothers – Brotherhood

What can I say? It’s the Chemical Brothers’ singles. You love ‘em: ‘Galvanize’, ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, ‘Setting Sun’. Now I love them and their acidy, big sample-lead electronica ways but the singles collection? Again? You can’t fool us by just putting them in a random order; it may be five years since the last one and two albums on top of that but on this disc that translates into a mere three tracks – and none of them are the Salmon Dance!

I may look on this more kindly if I’d been sent the special second disc which contains some of their ‘legendary’ Electronic Battle Weapons, a rare collection of beats, samples and the foundations of how some of their more famous songs started out. I haven’t been sent that disc though, so I can’t comment.

If you’re an enthusiast who missed the last collection then this might seem worth it. Other than that excuse this is a mere cheap marketing trick to rob us of out hard earned cash. Keep it in your pockets.

Nick Burman


Pope Joan – Hot Water, Lines & Rickety Machines

Brighton, that sea air obviously brings over some of the French creativity with it and mixes up with the bright lights and cheap chips. There’s quite a bit of talent making its way out of the southern town, Pope Joan can add them selves to that list. Not just by default, but because of their furious drums backing up well thought lyrics. Including not the most original guitars ever but Pope Joan are just good enough to get away with it.

Fellow Brighton peers Blood Red Shoes do a similar thing to this lot; writing catchy, energetic music. Blood Red Shoes aim more at a White Stripes crowd, this lot Bloc Party. You get the picture. The songs merge with each other, but the eight tracks speed past quite fast. They’d be a bit more recognisable as a group if they had a few more individual riffs, bass lines or utilised their keyboard a but more – even a bit of backing vocals. As each of the tracks reach their peak it’s all a bit too arena indie schmindie for my liking. ‘An Alternate Route to the End’ is a semi-acoustic number which gets them more into a groove heading towards the Radiohead train of thought.

Not wholly invigorating, sometimes Air Traffic seems like the most obvious reference point, which is never nice. Most will dismiss them as a Bloc Party covers band, but while the real thing go off to make jazz spun dance floor killers you can count on these lot to stay within their comfort zone. This time round, that’s satisfying enough.

Nick Burman


The Rex The Dog Show - s/t

No, it’s not a children’s program, it is in fact a fourteen tracks of electro house by a cartoon man and his dog, if you’re to believe their website. While avoiding the misleading artwork and the two remixes (they’re just crap) this is a surprisingly well sounding set of dance floor fillers.

Beavering away at singles which have been released on labels such as Kitsuné Maison, Rex uses retro 70s kit to make his sound. At times it is a bit too acid house for my liking, but even these parts beat the majority of the recent X-Press 2 greatest hits release, and their meant to be kings of the sound. Track two ‘Maximize 2008’ is the biggest song of the record using energetic samples and scratchy drums to create a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on the Simian Mobile Disco album. ‘I can see you, can you see me?’ is an upbeat acid number – these two tracks show that Rex can cover all types of dance and pull it off. Sometimes the songs do fall flat, but there’s of the good stuff on here to make up for it – especially ‘Itchy Scratchy’ which involves more techno than anything else using a sample most will recognise from a YouTube video featuring the ever improbable scratch artist DJ Q Bert.

The Rex The Dog Show is a creative, colourful addition to the dance floor and is sure to get around over the next few months. Dance music isn’t coming back, it already is back, and Rex is the right position to be near the height of it’s soon to be fame. Energetic but never hyper, fun but never immature – if this was a children’s program it would probably be the best children’s program in the world.

Nick Burman


Black Daniel – Hard Times on the Way

Thinking of purchasing the new Dandy Warhol LP? Well you don’t need to, because Black Daniel are here to replace them. The Iggy Pop anarchist, big punk riffs are all here. There are some genuine moments of great pop here; opener ‘Gimme What You Got’ could get onto an iPod advert and top the charts by the end of the year.

The rest of the record carries on in rock’n’roll fashion, lyrics that never take too much thinking to contemplate but their overall sound takes you along for the ride – in a monster truck, maybe. ‘Say Hello’ contains keys and guitar which sound like they’ve been lifted straight out of a late 90s pop song, the name of which I can’t find in my head right now.

The duo vocals add texture to an already bursting sound, the production values are spot on for what Black Daniel need to get their attitude round. This isn’t lazy copy cat material, after all rock’n’roll bands have always been pretty similar to each other, it’s the individuals impression of the sound which makes or break them. Black Daniel are lucky to be made up of people who know rock’n’roll and know exactly how to get you moving to it.

Not an essential purchase for your rack, but you’ll be a happier person for it.

Nick Burman


Roots Manuva – Slime & Reason

Now, I may listen to a few Public Enemy and NWA records but my underground Brit-Hop knowledge, is well… zero. So, based on sound alone the latest Roots Manuva offering gives us quite an original piece of music from a scene swallowed by the grime ting.

We know it’s up to date London, use of the word ‘Pussyole’, for example puts us in this time period. The aesthetic; Channel One, Studio One gives way for the classic Jamaican sound to showcase Manuva’s rhymes over classic samples and beats. It’s not an easy album to listen to, fourteen tracks all averaging out to about three minutes, may not sound like this but Manuva never lets up the pace, even when he’s not rapping the samples are heavy, choir affairs. ‘It’s Me O Lord’ is one of the most affecting songs on the record, but then again every song has the feeling to get you thinking, even if I don’t always get what he’s saying the feeling pours through.

Roots know what he’s doing, and hip hop in the charts as we all know is a lazy, misogynistic affair. This guy could front the proper hip hop revolution from his London base, along with the other underground acts that are also pushing things forward away from the eyes of the lazy mainstream. If you’re like me, and know almost nothing about modern hip hop, Slime & Reason is still a great buy. Introduce yourself to a major talent.c

Nick Burman


Mock Orange - 'Captain Love' (Tigertrap)

I think this is what's known as MathRock, though it bears little resemblance to, say, We Are The Physics or similarly fast outfits. Mock Orange definitely, I'll clarify this, quite firmly belong to that style known on this island as 'Americana' and if you find that type of keeningly chorused grind'n'crunch guitar medley and backwards drumming an entertaining listen then you ought to enjoy 'Captain Love' hugely.

Now it goes without saying that a lot of bands of this type aren't much heard of over here. Often products of the US college radio circuit, there hasn't been a band of this kind doing much in the UK since Eels, and that wasn't last weekend. So I've thought for a bit about what the Brit equivalent of bands like Mock Orange are and about the best I could come up with was 'Modern Life' era Blur, but this doesn't go very far towards explaining the ethos of a band whose press relesa mentions a number of their contemporaries: bands such as Rogue Wave, Braid, Minus The Bear and others unlikely to appear inthe pages of the glossy UK music press, even sites such as this: I have never heard of ANY of these bands and am left feeling somewhat ignorant. Hang on though, the Flaming Lips, are also getting a shout in and the rose-tinted shades of Wayne Coyne do glint from my speakers; and somewhere behind Coyne, John Lennon.

One band whose style I can recognise amongst the beerfest eccentricities on display here are Guided By Voices, and I'll never quite forget the Sunday evening I heard their track 'Cheyenne' crackling distantly across the skies from BBC Wales (I was living in Glasgow at the time). Mock Orange display similar skills when it comes to guitar dexterity and double-timed surprises. I personally enjoy hearing stuff like this when it's done well and after ten years of bottlenecking their Telecasters, the Citrus Fakes are practically unable to make a wrong noise on any of the twelve tracks on 'Captain Love' whatever the influences, and if they sell any copies this side of the pond then that's just a bonus.

Jon Gordon


Various: Not Doing It For The Quids - (Full Time Hobby)

Bleeps and bloops are back. So is lo-fi acoustic revelry. Just ask Tunng, whose erratically insistent 'Take' opens this 10 track sampler, a compilation which I am actually able to use the word 'eclectic' to describe.

If Full Time Hobby ran a restaurant, the service would be unhurried and the food itself a bit warm. Here are some Japanese meat critics known as Fujiya And Miyagi, keeping things on the darkly eccentric side with 'Dishwasher', which is a love song. Again the percussion is electro-skiffle and the beats are at the softer end of the blip spectrum. Micah P. Hinson's 'Tell Me It Ain't So' is a positively laid back slice of almost MOR balladry oddly reminiscent of the Go-Betweens.

The pace speeds up alarmingly with White Denims 'Mess Your Hair Up'. Derided elsewhere, perhaps for the 180 degree turn they're taking through world of skewed angularity, they're on form here alright. Malcolm Middleton's own particular brand of dour Scots miserablism never quite caught my imagination but 'A Brighter Beat' is exactly that from the normally less than cheerful former member of Arab Strap. The Accidental's 'Illuminated Red' is a fiddle backed alt-folk ballad which sags a bit in the chorus and is otherwise unmemorable. But here come the big boys ...

The Hold Steady are a much-touted new name of whom many of you will have heard something of and they make an epic pop sound that appears loudly brazen compared to much of what's gone before it: the actual album highlight? Well, I haven't quite finished here and the gently plucked intro of Sufjan Stevens 'She Is' wafts delicately from my speakers, and a glutinously troubadorish love song it really is: 'she is the bridge on which I wait / to watch the river 'neath me float' declares our lovestruck swain as the lyric turns ever more sonnetish, though when this gets to 'playing on the flute of early morn ...' I did start to wonder if it was proper to inform social services, or merely compare Mr Stevens to Syd Barrett. When he was a student.
Viva Voce bring their xylophone for 'Lesson Number 1' whose slide guitar riff gives a gently acoustic number an added impetus, and final say goes to Autolux whose 'Turnstile Blues' is exactly that, an effects pedal symphony of fuzzbox delay that ends a bit abruptly.
So, The Hold Steady are worthy of the attention they've received elsewhere and Autolux are an unknown quantity whose abilities ought to take them further than they might already have. 10 tracks more than half of which deserve your attentions. Full Time Hobby can look forward to an interesting year.

Jon Gordon


Port O'Brien - 'All We Could Do Was Sing' (City Slang)

If someone bought - I've forgotten what that American band were called, there were about thirty of them and they all wore smocks, did a lot of choral chanting and sort of orchestral stuff - anyhow, if someone bought The Magnetic Lips or whoever that was a boat, then the results would sound an awful lot like Port O'Brien.

Why, on albums such as this, are there never fewer than four vocalists on each track, each of them quite democratically keening at the top of their lungs? After a bit they just sound like one hoarse bloke, or a chorus of Neil Young clones. Then there's the banjo playing. No-one has ever run a banjo through an effects rack: this is a heresy that cannot stand in the world of recorded sound, specifically the AltCountryLoFi world of which Port O'Brien are a part of.

Now, the overall mood of the album is waterbourne, and Port O'Brien's intentions are to re-write the sea shanty, in the LoFi manner described above. Oddly though, the images this mixture of mandolins, string sections and multi-part vocalising conjures up isn't a coastal one, this really is a backwoods country album: it just so happens there's a lake nearby the O'Brien campsite, which is quite firmly inland, nowhere anywhere near the sea and quite likely up in the mountains someplace. Did anyone else see that documentary about the cameraman who was so interested in getting footage of bears in the wild that one ate both him and his girlfriend? There was probably something a lot like Port O'Brien playing on his I-Pod.

You, the CD listener, you face the privilege of choice here: either listen to 'All We Could Do Was Sing' or, if your tastes run to something a little heavier, Neil Young's 1995 'Glitterball' album. They do sound strangely similar.

Jon Gordon


Ben Marwood - 'This Is Not What You Had Planned' (Josaka/Broken Tail)

Ben Marwood plays his guitar loud and has a direct lyrical style that I can't quite place so I can only suppose that his style is entirely his own, which is unusual nowadays.

What the seven songs on 'This Is ...' are about are fast guitar picking and some of the most inventive and least obscure lyrics I've heard in a while, detailing a torturous series of break-ups, isolation, alienation and restitutions of various types. This combination of dextrous musicianship - Ben Marwood is as tuneful as he is fast - and a prose style that suggests he's as good a novelist as he is a musician - gives songs such as 'Question Mark' and 'I Know What I Did Last Summer' a frenetic quality which I haven't heard in any acoustic music for quite a while, if ever. It is true that most musicians working in the acoustic field downplay their more assertive qualities (I nearly fell asleep at a Roy Harper gig once) and there's maybe an element of Tom Paxton at his speedier and more eloquent here, but that is going back a bit, to the mid 70s. Certainly, few singer songwriters nowadays display the directness and aggression Marwood brings to some of his material. New protest music for the '10s? Or just a load of strumming and mouthy sneering? Either way, Ben Marwood's next album probably might find its way onto the airwaves and into your homes a year or so from now.

Jon Gordon