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  albums - sep 2008


Eoin Dillon – The Third Twin (Kila Records) 

Firstly, let’s get a few things straight. Number one, if you don’t like the Irish, stop reading. Number two, if you don’t like traditional Irish music (we’re talking piping not Boyzone here), stop reading. Number three, if you don’t like albums that you really have to know a lot about traditional Irish music to appreciate, stop reading. 

Now personally, I can make it past numbers one and two, but I can’t really clear number three. I like traditional folk music, but I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. Which is probably why my appreciation of this album is diminished somewhat.  

The Third Twin, to give it its due, is consistent throughout. It doesn’t deviate, hesitate, or try something different. It’s composed by a Dubliner who makes and plays Dublin pipes in the Dublin style of piping and plays what can only piping tunes. 

I would hazard a guess and say that this guy’s a ridiculously good piper. He seems to know what he’s doing, but with such little variation in style, it’s all about substance. Technically, he’s probably a genius, but this album will only be appreciated by who genuinely love this kind of music – it’s not really a genre you can dip in and out of.  

That said, despite being forty minutes long it does seem like rather a short forty minutes. If you want a blast of something traditional you can do a lot worse that Eoin Dillon. And if pipes are your thing, prepare to have a field day with this album.

Catriona Boyle


Colm O Snodaigh – Giving (Kila Records) 

Ok so there should be an accent over the O, but it’s a Sunday evening and I just can’t stretch to it. And, rather handily, Giving is a record rather suited to Sunday evenings, when a few precious hours stretch out to be consumed however you desire before Monday morning drudgery begins. 

 Opener Adieu has a perfect laid back jazz feel to it with doodling saxophones, a walking bass and relaxed sporadic vocals. A glass of red wine and I could quite easily slide into a happy unconscious stupor until tomorrow morning. 

The slow, gentle tempo continues throughout the album, but the songs take a more meaningful intense feel, and despite the fact that some songs are sung in Irish, the tone of Colm’s voice is able to convey emotion perfectly.  

Like a more mournful, and less whimsical and pop culture inspired Fionn Regan, Colm makes delicate and haunting tracks augmented with acoustic guitars, occasional strings, and little else but vocals.  

We’ve changed shuffles along underneath very subtly, with a Hammond organ you really have to strain your ears for, and some lovely echoey vocals.  

A closer glance at the sleeve notes reveals that backing vocals on a couple of tracks are provided by none other than Lisa Hannigan, former partner/band mate/muse to Colm’s compatriot Damien Rice. Sadly though her voice is often so quiet it’s barely there, and as her previous work has proved she’s capable of a lot more than a few background whimpers. 

Whilst starting off well, the maudlin, downbeat feel of the album can start to wear a bit thin, and towards the end it would be nice if Colm could perk up a bit. Giving is undoubtedly a beautiful, wistful album, but feels a bit too much in one sitting. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste your whole Sunday evening now, would you.

Catriona Boyle


Rosabella Gregory – Everything Comes Together (RG Music) 

You have to be good to make it as a female singer/songwriter these days. Well, either good or have a unique selling point, like the sheer size of Adele or the utter madness of Imogen Heap. Rosabella Gregory is neither good, nor has anything else of note worth mentioning. 

This is emotional female angst by numbers. Ground covered so many times there’s nothing left to say, men are rubbish, I’ve been travelling, cutesy but ultimately boring anecdotes, and a nice enough voice. 

India, China may have hit on Rosabella’s USP, which is her bizarre cockney, Nancy-form-Oliver accent which bizarrely only really features on this track.  

Everything Comes Together won’t make your ears bleed, but its radio friendly insipid ballads certainly aren’t enough to rate Rosabella Gregory.

Catriona Boyle


Ava Leigh - Rollin’ (EMI) 

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a stickler for grammatical correctness, so Miss Leigh hardly makes a good impression with this title. At least she’s put the apostrophe in the right place though. 

This is reggae-lite by numbers. Off-beat guitar chords with a clean sound, a touch of symbol and a fill half way through the verse. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ava’s backing band pressed one of the preset rhythms on the keyboard and sloped off down the pub. 

To be perfectly honest I didn’t make it to the end of this album, but as the reggae beat plundered all the way to track five, I think it’s pretty safe to say it was a recurring theme all the way through.

Get yourself a keyboard and see if you can do any better.

Catriona Boyle


Katy Perry – One of the Boys (Capitol) 

The 10 year-olds at the out of school club I work at inform me that this pop strumpet is currently number one, which I think proves that the pop market is doing an excellent job of reaching it’s demographic, while the rest of us ignore it and listen to proper music.  

No doubt Katy Perry would deny it vehemently, but she’s clearly marketed along the same rebellious, albeit slightly more glamorous, appeal of Avril Lavigne. 

Up-tempo, bouncy and with just the right amount of heartache, boys and lesbianism (number one single I Kissed A Girl), One of the Boys is, unsurprisingly, nothing new. 

Perhaps slightly edgier than most sugar coated pop, this is still frivolous, superficial music that reels people in with a quick fix catchy riff and then provides fairly little else. 

No doubt pre-teens will lap it up and probably give Katy Perry a few more number ones before the constraints of the inevitably short career span of a popstrel confines her to obscurity. The rest of us will ignore it and carry on as normal.

Catriona Boyle


Vessels - White Fields and Open Devices (Cuckundoo)

It's been an oft-used but nevertheless, non-acceptable excuse that some of the best albums we get in to review also take the longest to write about. In terms of sheer lateness then, 'White Fields and Open Devices' would have to be the greatest CD that we've ever heard. Well, that may not be the case exactly but there is absolutely no denying the fact that this is an immense piece of work by a band who only got together 3 years ago.

I've seen Vessels play live a number of times and the overriding impression I have left has always been twofold. Firstly a mastery of moving from light to dark, not in a grungey quiet-loud-quiet way but through a far more melodic and subtle transition. Secondly, the sheer professionalism and expertise of the band always shines through - never a bum note, never out of time -always but always bang on the money (which is pretty critical if you are putting together largely instrumental pieces). If I'd ever thought they had any weaknesses it would have been a preference for dynamics to diverse melodies - not a problem in a live situation but something which could make a record a bit dry. All of which leads nicely to album opener 'Altered Beast'. All of that trademark technicality and mathy progressions are heavily in evidence, building and building nicely. Then after a good five minutes any doubts are shattered as the song explodes into a shrill fill of guitar noise. Instantly visceral. Instantly ace.

Vessels have got this album so flawlessly produced by John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, Black Mountain) that all of the band's undoubted toil and hard work is able to just ebb away seamlessly leaving us with a beautiful piece of work. The eerie 'Happy Accident' introduces an understated film sample underneath a swirling instrumental track one minute gentle, next dark and brooding. This passes into the much more mathy and ferocious 'An Idle Brain and the Devil's Workshop' which has the ruthless precision associated with the likes of Leicester's Maybeshewill and Ann Arbour. The quiet outro preludes a number of more serene following tracks such as  'Walking Through Walls' and had me initially feeling that the album was running out of steam at its midway point. But a few listens later and it becomes clear that this is just a vital interlude painting a little light in the dark, adding another layer of interest to an already packed sound.

Like all great records, this one ends on a high with 'Wave Those Arms, Airmen', not that you will have the pleasure of hearing it immediately. It creaks into being over a series of minutes before a shimmering drum beat rattles into life. This is very much a slow burner, but the anticipation just serves to heighten the mesmeric end effect of the messed up drum patterns and the warped electronic feedback sounds.

'White Fields and Open Devices' is not an instantly listenable experience, not even that likeable to a lot of people no doubt. But give it time, give it the effort it deserves to really listen and turn it up loud and you will be richly rewarded by this fine album.



Noblesse Oblige - In Exile

Noblesse Oblige are a formerly London-based German/French duo now based in Berlin, yet you get the impression from listening to their second album In Exile that they inhabit a country of their own, inhabited by 1930s German cabaret clubs, 18th century Venetian masked balls, and where the predominant music style is 1980s Synth Pop. It's the kind of place where you're likely to either wind up face down in a back alley lying in a pool of blood or inducted against your will into a sado-masochistic sex cult, operating out of an abandoned French mansion, drugged up to the eyeballs and surrounded by Nazi memorabilia.

In Tanz, Mephisto!, the standout track and first single, vocalist Valerie Renay, sounding like the lovechild of Marlene Dietrich and Donna Summer, commands in the manner of an S&M mistress the titular demon to dance. It opens with a feverish harpsichord intro that sounds like it's literally being played by the Devil, akin to as if Muse suddenly ditched their guitars and switched to baroque instrumentation instead (I’m looking forward to that day). The rest of the album rarely reaches such euphoric heights but Noblesse Oblige are admittedly at their strongest when infusing a hint of sinister sadness into their numbers such as on Forbidden Crime and Das Soldatengluck, which sounds marvellously like a German Serge Gainsbourg backed by a Tindersticks string section and a Dresden Dolls piano riff. Though on the sinister scale there’s nothing here as extreme as “Daddy (Don’t Touch Me There)” from their first album Privilege Entails Responsibility – but that’s probably a good thing.

There is however some bizarre filler. Hit The Bongo applies it’s Fade To Grey bass-line over, you guessed it, a bongo beat, while employing the old Bongo/Congo rhyme from the 80s Um Bongo adverts. It’s not entirely clear how serious you’re supposed to be taking it. The press notes refer to it as the bands "flirtation" with world music coming to a "climax" – that’s probably a good thing too.

Stephen Jessep


Stupids - Retard Picnic/Complete BBC Peel Sessions 

At the very least you got your money's worth here. Between these two reissue CDs there are 60 songs of blistering hardcore punk. Clearly taking from the bustling US Hardcore punk scene of the early 80s (think Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys), then throwing out the politics, and finally making it silly or, if you will, retarded, there is a hell of a lot of fun here and very little musical talent. Indeed there is little difference between the live recordings and the studio ones other than the at times hilarious singer to crowd interaction.

So if you wanted well constructed or beautiful music then to be fair you shouldn’t have read the review thus far. It is without doubt an acquired taste. Or something you’re born with in case you have a mental illness. But if you do have that taste or disability then it is what it is -  fun, bristling, energetic and one of the best examples of underground punk that can be taken from the era.

Chris Sharpe


Army of Freshmen – Above The Atmosphere 

You’ve heard this band a thousand times before. And you’ll probably like those other bands more because other than spattering of keyboard and moog there’s not a lot new going on in this power pop punk paint by numbers party of a record. The 12 year old in me is bopping up and down and wanting to learn all the words so my friends and I can start a Blink-182 cover band as soon as we get our first guitars. The increasingly cynical 17 year old in me however can’t help but be a little unimpressed.  

There is nothing wrong with Army of Freshmen… they are very good at what they do. They’ve worked hard and strived independently for years to keep the party going, with a renowned and energetic live show, and the hugely successful Get Happy Tour that they founded with contemporaries Bowling for Soup under their belts, they should inspirations for many up and coming bands in the same mould – see Forever the Sickest Kids & co. It’s just that what they do is a bit boring by now.  

Songs like first single “No One’s Famous”, “Any Other Way” and album opener “Centre Of Gravity” are bound to be fan favourites but for the less indoctrinated I can’t see Above The Atmosphere being as world conquering as the title suggests, Army of Freshmen’s appeal is much more down to earth.

Chris Sharpe


Guns On The Roof - New Frustration 

Many music lovers say that punk rock music has had its glory years, with bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones flying the flag. Fast forward to 2008 and punk rock is still very much alive and well and one band that is one the front line is Guns On The Roof. Their fast up beat songs would not be out of place in the punk hey day of the 70’s. Songs full of passion and aggression played to a catchy rhythm Guns On The Roof are clearly trying to recreate the sound of bands that they grew up listening to and they have done a great job of that.

Having already supported bands of great stature like Rancid, The Misfits and Dead Kennedys it seems rather unusual that this band are still quite an underground band, but I’m sure this won’t really bother Guns On The Roof as they are sticking to their punk rock roots rather than selling out. With the release of ’New Frustration’ due out in early October it wouldn’t be a surprise if the punk rock scene begins to grow in popularity again in the UK.

This album has been highly anticipated and it is easy to see exactly why. There is not a single song which could be considered disappointing, in fact the entire album is anything but.  Constantly touring over the last two years has clearly made the band a lot tighter as there is not a missed note in the whole album and you can’t help but stand up and take notice of how talented this band are. If Guns On The Roof can keep producing material like this, they could easily be come the UK punk saviours that the Sex Pistols once were and may even achieve the level of success that The Misfits have enjoyed. This album is nothing short of sensational.

Tim Birkbeck


The Spinto Band - 'Moonwink' (Fierce Panda)

A gleeful air of vaudeville infects all eleven tracks on 'Moonwink'. I would say Music Hall but The Spinto Band are Americans, from Iowa, and 'Vaudeville' is the American terminology for stuff like this. It's in the quirky cadences of keyboard, the minor chord progressions, the nod 'n' wink vocals, in the song titles - 'Vivian Don't', 'The Cats Pajamas' and 'Pumpkins And Paisley' to name but three. But this is only the start of what The Spinto Band (do they really run around in circles and get dizzy onstage?) are presenting to us on this eleven track collection of choreographed chaos.

The Spinto Band play fast and accurately. The sound is crisp and polished, the tunes hark back to the Dixieland melodies of almost a century ago and as if that wasn't enough there's a seemingly endless stream of instrumental invention that stops 'Moonwink' turning into a load of speedy ditherings, moments which quite dterminedly keep you listening, that pin you to your armchair and demand your full attentions : a sonorous bas drum here, a mariachi trumpet there, an earsplittingly overdriven guitar solo just when least expected and a host of other noises which avoid straying into outright gimmickry and sound carefully planned right down to the very last hi-hat tap. Excellent stuff from a committed bunch of talented musicians whose enthusiasms and abilities are both uncategorisable and hugely listenable.

Jon Gordon


Max Tundra - 'Parallax Error Beheads You' (Domino)

This is turning into quite a good year for singer-songwriters, or even just people inspired by them. Releasing his third album no less than six years on from its predecessor 'Mastered By Guy At The Exchange', Mr Tundra and his harpsichord present ten melodramatic popular songs, each of them mangled through a load of elderly sampling software. Tundra has an engaging vocal style and also a neat touch with an arpeggio but I couldn't help thinking that not all his ideas fully realise themselves, given the amount of garbled electronica sloshing around the verses of the songs here, one or two of which I would like to have heard a little more of.

Really though 'Parallax Error Beheads You' - and who else was expecting around four hours of Aphex Twin-style indulgence with a title like that ? - sounds as if it was knocked together over a bank holiday weekend as a jokey experiment with some newly purchased sequencers. It's a mildly diverting listen but I couldn't help thinking that the real focus of the talents at work here are, quite literally, somewhere else. Max Tundra : probably the bloke who does back up keyboards for The Feeling.

Jon Gordon


Goldblade – Mutiny 

Just for starters I’d like to put a message out to all bands in particular the punk varieties. The whole pirate theme has been to done to death before and it sounds like a brilliant idea to write the soundtrack to Jack Sparrow’s existence I can assure you it is not. Set Your Goals managed it because they didn’t overemphasise the whole damn thing. Goldblade however do over do it. A lot. In particular on the title track which couldn’t be any more full of pirate and seafaring samples and annoyances “Yaharrr, ahoy, ho ho ho”. Just please no. 

Punk didn’t die. Punk can’t be killed. Whatever. This effort from ska-punk veterans Goldblade sounds truly undead. In particular on City Of Ghosts which is currently driving me insane with the mind numbing repetitiveness of it all. Whilst trying to emulate the whole pirate identity as best they can they just sound very, very drunk. And I assume the producers and distributors were too because then they would actually have an excuse for this album. 

There’s simply nothing going on here and in fact it’s more than a little embarrassing. Punk has changed a bit since the first wave of the Ramones and Sex Pistols. In fact it had to change at the time to keep people interested. See The Clash. If you want a more modern example see Refused. Their musicianship is very good for most punk bands. In fact I think they actually use four chords. But by about track four you are seriously bored. The only good and slightly re-listenable song on the album is the last one, the vocals never change, the songs sound the same and all the lyrical themes, though the best part of the band, have been done before.  

In fact that’s the main response to this album, like so much music around today this has been done before and then probably done before that as well. And unless you can do it better it should be a rule that you don’t do it again and you can’t release another record until you try something a bit different. Particularly if you are already on your fifth album you should know better by now. 

If you like this particular brand of Oi! Punk then go ahead don’t listen to me buy it, shout along to it, live it if need be, I have a wicked pirate hat I can lend you if you can fit it over your Mohican. However if you really care about good music then stop and think about it, and then decide to go and find something that doesn’t fail quite as much. You can thank me later.

Chris Sharpe


The Bug - London Zoo

With Burial pushing Dub-Step into peoples senses with his Mercury nomination The Bug must be pretty pissed off that the former is getting all the attention in the scene (from the mainstream perspective, anyhow), as this is a producer who was reputedly making the sound before it even had a name.

Where Untrue was lo-fi, tetchy samples and sounds London Zoo is a far more sound-system influenced, heavy drum induced affair. It also showcases new British Hip-Hop talent, which is always a good thing. Too Much Pain featuring Ricky Rankin and Aya is the first truly affecting track on the record. Sounding like its been recorded in a Church there is an otherworldly feel to the vocals. The music is detached but affecting throughout. Insane features a Baille Funk feel and in the same vein M.I.A. styled vocals from Warrior Princess. Spaceape makes the biggest impression verbally with his vocals on track Fuckaz; all those people who hold the keys but continue to close doors etc.

Its perhaps unfair to compare this to Burial, as I don't try to compare every indie artist to, say The Smiths or Blur, but as that being the only other full body of Dub-Step work I've had the pleasure of hearing, itll have to do. Theyre both equally a hard listen, but in different ways. Instead of near Massive Attack eerie silences (Burial) we have heavy, politicised lyrics from underground MCs backed by large, intense wall-of-sounds (The Bug). That alone is one of London Zoos most affecting features. If you've only got one tenner in your pocket this journo is putting his money on The Bug: the one the Mercury judges missed out on.

Nick Burman


Schizo Fun Addict - Imperial Quasar

With the synthesized, dance-y sound falling out of every studio around the country this summer it takes something special to stand out. Some of this material may be almost eight years old but the effect has not lost itself over that period.

Schizo is appearing from under the Brooklyn Bridge as America is successfully breeding totally independent, often original and DIY bands. Their drums and use of samples are very Chemical Brothers, but not a tribute act. The recent Chemical Brothers Best Of didn't inspire half as much as this sonic boom-scape does. Squelches and beeps cover the production of large break beat drums.

The samples, meanwhile, provide enough recognisable moments in some tracks to bring SFA into the realm of the have you heard that track, yknow the one with that guy saying my mate fell into a K hole and now he's never coming back (Keta Mine Field)? The whole thing sounds like the heroin-induced moments of Trainspotting. Victory Position starts off as a fast tempo reworking of Underworlds Born Slippy but soon looses interest in itself by then bringing in a stadium crunching, Oasis inspired guitar riff.

Schizo may sometimes sound a bit like the parts of Peep Show when Jeremy tries to live the hedonistic lifestyle but there's enough fun in here to make even the greyest of Sundays slide by with a bang. Got it, generic dance acts? This may not be wholly original, but nor are you so get some Schizo Fun in there and become an Addict to this record immediately.

Nick Burman


Attic Lights - 'Friday Night Lights' (Island)

If Teenage Fanclub were the Scottish Byrds, and former Fanclub member Francis Macdonald produces the ten tracks on display here, then Attic Lights are the non-ironic antidote to the comedy glitz of Glasvegas. Never allowing their musicianship to slide into anything that remotely resembles indulgence or flashy production trickery, 'Friday Night Lights' has a mood of grounded optimism and a determined lack of pretension across its 10 tracks, and you'll need to listen closely to hear anything resembling the moodily introspective after-hours growlings so many Glasgow bands bring to the table (notable exceptions being Teenage Fanclub and their slightly older mates Del Amitri). These are real songs about real people, living real lives in which real things happen. Cars break down, couples get together and split up, people drink too much and feel a bit guilty about it, and tomorrow is a better day than today was.

But of course the the lyrics do reveal a darker, though hardly hidden side to Attic Lights endless summer: 'Wendy I think it's over/I haven't seen you since last October' the Lights chorus on current single 'Wendy', which sounds a bit more definitely finito than my transcription allows for, while album highlight 'God' puts it pretty bluntly in terms of alienation and despair :'God why did you let me down/standing all alone in the middle of town' - takes on a certain morbid genius when backed not with a grimly industrial Divisionesque thrash but a soaring twelve string artistry that wouldn't sound out of place on '5th Dimension'.

Attic Lights probably aren't quite 'ironic' enough to expect much success in next years Eurovision - they'd need to sound a lot more like The Marmalade impersonating James Last to even think about making that work - but what 'Friday Night Lights' lacks in the brutal panto humour that nearly made Alex Harvey famous, it more than compensates for in its unaffected emotions and quite blatant pop sensibilities, even if those do date from a time when bands didn't always play their own instruments on record.

Jon Gordon


The Marches - sampler

“We get our kicks from rock and roll”, sings The Marches – though you wouldn’t quite tell. You see, with every Fratellis, every Enemy, every Bloc Party, comes something a bit like The Marches; something which breaks, twists and casts the barriers into magical fusions of technicolour energy. ‘Indie disco electro pop’ might sound like something that should be confined to the infinite trap of (shudder) nu-rave, but luckily for The Marches, each dreamy indie pop enchantment offers so much more than a synthesiser and a penchant for pills.

Each song is soothing in its own charming way, but the true enchantment lies in each delicately crafted layer embedded within the music. With such depth and stunning melodies, these ditties are encapsulated in the mind long after each listen, looping through each brainwave like an indie Crazy Frog. If only the pikey’s had this as their ringtone.

Olivia Jaremi


The Maybes? -  'Promise' (Xtra Mile)

Right from album opener 'Turn Me Over' it's apparent that while The Maybes? are making an edgy urban guitar racket that aren't too fussed about maintaining the momentum of the entire Doherty Mockney oeuvre. The Liverpool four piece are looking a little further afield for their inspirations, or at least as far as Anfield. 'Turn Me Over' has all the elements of that powerpop romanticism that made The Coral what they were in 2003, and The Icicle Works before that, and when we arrive at third track 'Modern Love' The Maybes? (dig the crazy question mark hepcats) are definitely starting to sound as if their janglist leanings are taking on a metallic edge.

Things really hot up with 'Trick Of The Light' though, whose recurring lead riff pushes the song down the route marked AltCountry while making the whole thing sound almost effortless. None of your wall-of-reverb production overkill here, The Maybes? are letting their own efforts make the impressions here rather than drench their efforts in gallons of studio trickery, which makes it sound all the more effective when they do so. It's the final and title track which ought to make us sit up and take proper notice of The Maybes? though; it's a lengthy instrumental which has the band stretching their abilities about as far as their instruments will allow, the result sounding a lot like Giorgio Moroder producing Slade.

'Promise' is, for the most part a familiar and slightly self conscious Liverpool album that ought to sit comfortably alongside Ians Brodie and McCulloch in your collections. For the most part, that is.

Jon Gordon


Olympus Mons - Nothing's Gonna Spoil My Day Today

When an album’s good – really good, you can usually tell by the first listen. Like The Maccabees sped up and that bit better, Olympus Mons are looking promising. Yet another band set for the big time, Olympus Mons don’t seem to offer any alternative to your current NME regurgitated hype. However, something underlying in the music sets off that button buzzing in your head, constantly reminding you that this band is worth noting. Many bands of a similar calibre are often put on a similar pedestal, but with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Spoil My Day Today’, Olympus Mons don’t only prove themselves to be worthy of such titles, but that they are completely, utterly fun.

With sixteen tracks and the occasional shouty yelp, Olympus Mons are not only entertaining, but also relevant. If you download anything this year, make it this. Then buy it about seven times. You’ll know it’s worth it, all you need to do is give it a chance.

Olivia Jaremi


Milosh - III

If Canada had been the birthplace of IKEA, it may just have been the best place in the world. However, it did not, and instead we got a sudden surge of amazing indie, and with said tsunami of wonders, came Milosh. His third album ‘III’ is not only the main feature of this review, but also rather brilliant. Flowing squelches and bleeps cascade throughout each song, with effusive yet accessible falsettos occasionally dominating the otherwise elusive sound. With each tendril of noise comes an elated atmosphere, lying perfectly with each programmed loop.

Harmonious as it may sound, there is an underlying sense of tension within each song, yet each potential downfall to ‘III’ is put off by the wonderful craftsmanship in which it has been created. Tweaked and twisted to almost-perfection, each song is like a Soother to a sore throat, to use one of the most awful of analogies. And who could argue with that?

Olivia Jaremi


All The Way Rider - The Eagle’s Revenge  

All The Way Rider describe their music as ‘smart rock’ and after listening to their new album, The Eagle’s Revenge, you can understand why. From the first song on the album ‘ Fort Dodge Police’ it is obvious that All The Way Rider are very talented musicians. They take pride in the fact that they produce music which will make people think ‘this is really well- structured rock’ which is enjoyable to listen to. Unlike most bands on today’s music scene, All The Way Rider haven’t just listened to bands they like then tried to emulate them, instead they have taken aspects of many different bands and mixed them together to produce their own sound. There are complete extremes throughout the album - from hard hitting guitar riffs, similar to those of Queens Of The Stone Age, and then a sudden change to songs which become very calming and melodic, demonstrating the vast array of talent that All The Way Rider possess. The band have the songs and the Cds to prove they have talent, so why do so few people know about All the Way Rider?. I hope that The Eagle’s Revenge gets the credit that it deserves and brings All The Way Rider a greater level of success. It would be a tragic waste of all  their hard work and talent if not.

Tim Birkbeck


Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - ‘Ten Thousand’ (Balling the Jack/Bronzerat Records)

It took exactly 18 seconds of the opening track, ‘Go Back Home’, for this album to put some deep hoodoo on me and I’ve been bewitched ever since – so much so that it became the soundtrack to my summer, the songs accompanying dreary weekends of damp camping, long days spent staring out of the window at the rain, travelling all the way to the Czech republic and back, with me trying to preach this gospel to anyone that would listen.

Meanwhile, the band toured Britain, playing a handful of dates, a few festivals, recorded their second session for Mark Lamarr’s BBC Radio 2 show, and then buggered off back home to Canada. If you caught them play live, (you jammy bastard), then you’re already a convert. Me, I missed them, but I did feel moved to grow a beard and buy a five string banjo. I’ve now lost the beard, but the banjo still sounds sweet.  All of which goes some way to explaining why this review is horrendously late. Or maybe it’s just that it is the music that moves us the most that is the hardest to articulate.

Despite appearances, Pete Balkwill, (drums, percussion), Bob Keelaghan, (guitars and vocals), Judd Palmer, (guitar, banjo, harmonica, vocals) and Vlad Sobolewski, (upright bass, vocals, trombone), aren’t mountain-men, don’t sing gospel and aren’t a choir, but instead produce some of the most authentic North American roots music that I’ve heard in long time.

Formed in 2001, this is their third album, but their first to be simultaneously released on a UK label. They have a sound that shares with the later albums of Tom Waits the thunderstorm crash, rattle, thump and buzz of homemade percussion, and that winged-eel-fingerling, low slide-guitar thing of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band on tracks like ‘Owed to Alex’ and ‘Floppy Boot Stomp’ but this is because their music draws its inspiration from the same roots.

Featuring mostly original numbers, and three covers; ‘Stop That Thing’, by Sleepy John Estes, ‘La Valse De Balfa, a Cajun tune by Dewey Balfa, with the banjo taking the place of the traditional Zydeco accordion, and ‘Empire State Express’ by Eddie Son House, but with re-written lyrics, a homage to one of the founding fathers and originators of Mississippi delta country blues, and obviously a major inspiration for the Agnostics, who display with their own numbers a clear understanding of the blues as dance music as well the collective expression of desire or despair.

However, this is not just a blues album, despite their cover of a Son House song and his portrait adorning the ‘Hell bank note’ featured on the artwork, since it’s clear that the Agnostic’s are just as much in love with the music of the early Mountain string bands, long dead artists from the 1920’s and 1930’s, like Uncle Dave Macon, Earl Johnson, or Ernest V. Stoneman that inspired the pioneers of Bluegrass like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers.

Regardless of all these historical references, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir have managed to create something which is both true to the spirit and intensity of the music that has inspired them, while at the same time quite unique and original. This is an album packed with absolute killer tracks, beginning with the foot stomping, hollering, humming and growling thump of ‘Go Back Home’ all the way through to the sheer magic of the closing, title song, ’10,000 years, racing at a breakneck pace and sounding like Ralph Stanley singing along to Ali Farke Toure on guitar and some amphetamine fuelled banjo player, while the drummer beats out the rhythm on kettledrums and a pint glass full of old cutlery. Absolutely bloody marvellous!

Bill Howe


Lovvers – Think (Wichita)

Lovvers are pretty darn awesome. While undoubtedly a punk band, there is more than enough going on to separate them from that backwards genre. Their fractured, yet riff-heavy sound, go along well with the muffled and mangled vocals, and ceaseless bass lines, that all in all marks Lovvers as out as band to pay attention to, and keep track of. After being signed by Wichita the futures bright and with a winter touring schedule that sees them play everywhere worth playing in the UK, before travelling across Europe with Los Campesinos!, and subsequently Abe Vigoda it shouldn’t be long before they’re grabbing some column inches and banging some eardrums.

Chris Sharpe


Ten Kens - Ten Kens (Fat Cat)

Stumbling into my Itunes, i had a few assumptions about Ten Kens, mainly from the fact the fact they played some of the folkey-indie festivals that I've been to this year and that their 'playful' name is more twee than the truth turns out to be. In fact Ten Kens mix sparse riffs with a rocky edge that produces a bittersweet sound. They are described as 'alt-rock' by Fat Cat, but equally I see a hint of post-rock influence shining through, and it is this which impressed me most.

When Bearfight kicks off I thought it was Interpol, but instead, distorted guitars rage a Godspeed You! Black Emperor angry distorted opening before the song settles into a energetic and anthemic verse/chorus, which is multilayered and an enticing opening. The album does seem to have a disillusioned sound to its fractured riffs, with Downcome home, Refined and Your Kids Will Know displaying part of the opening songs sparse riffs and chaotic ennui.

Y'all Come Back Now sounds like it could be Modest Mouse with it's open high hats piercing the indie riff. The start to Spanish Fly may have Larrikin Love up in arms (it sounds like the start to a song called Six Queens) but it turns into a tub thumping hard rock shout out loud anthem.

Hopefully they can retain the balance that sees them make some great songs. Prodigal Sum and Bearfight follow a similar pattern, but the vocal oh-oh's on Bearfight makes the music feel all encompassing and has that quality that makes you feel defiant. If they can retain the balance they achieve on their best tracks between the scuzzy noise and the more straightforward alt-rock which recalls Liars then they should be great! Definitely an album to be heard live I think!

Lloyd Griffiths


Jefferson Pepper - American Evolution (American Fallout)

It would be easy to sit here and type away armchair funnies about Jefferson Pepper. Some of his promo pictures are funny (T shirts which say SEE, HEAR and lots of monkeys) and at times his sentiment against governments seem simplistic, (although well needed in the complex politics of America) but after listening to American Evolution a couple of times i think it has more charms than harms. It is mainly country music, sounding partly like it should be sung in a Bar in the South, but On and On opens the albums somewhat sombrely, with an account of A warmongering father. It seems standard fare lyrically, but some lines pierce the National machismo behind War - "He left home in a uniform and came home in a bag, Momma gave him to the nation and they gave her back a flag" resonating well.

Most of the album is more upbeat with snides at consumer culture - 'Disposable Me, Disposable You' and the skewed wealth in America 'One percent'. Many songs first struck me as joke fodder, but they are charming at times and I can see why Jefferson has built a small fanbase. Some songs falter with stretched storytelling but there is enough catchy moments to keep you interested, especially been as his subject matter is very current. He mixes country well with bluegrass and although anti-war songs may seem old hat, i think his is a less populist view, rooted in good sentiment, for example his ales recall childhood friends who have enlisted in Iraq.

Ultimately Pepper seems genuine enough and he has created something which matches his own values and underlines those which are lacking in parts of America today.

Lloyd Griffiths


Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling (Wall of Sound)

The eagerly awaited (in Tasty towers at least) 6th studio album from Glasgow's finest sees Mogwai in fully instrumental mode, eschewing all vocals in favour of 10 tracks of swirling atmosphere. But 11 years on from their inception do they still sound vital?

I would have to say more than any other Mogwai album I have listened to (and that is actually all of them, plus some naughty bootlegs) 'The Hawk is Howling' is without doubt the least immediate. Sure there is the odd moment when a sawtooth guitar crashes over the already feedback of the amps which must already be on the point of exploding as in 'Batcat'. This is the sort of thing that first woke me up  to Mogwai way back when I saw them play live at Radio 1 sound city in Newcastle Riverside and it was so loud I had to 'watch' from a side room to protect my ears a bit. But in general, you'd have to say this album sees Mogwai in a more pensive mood, drawing out threads and strands of melody and dynamic in a much more spartan way which while requiring longer to fully absorb than the tracks on 'Mr Beast' is no less beautiful for it. 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead' draws direct parallels with 'Sine Wave' from 'Rock Action' - opening up with a slow builder which gradually increases in strength in a poised and dignified manner.

'Danphe and the Brain' is a perfect example of the restrained reflective mood on this album. The simple guitar and synth lines slowly unravel as the track progresses - initially leaving the listener feeling a little short changed then it all clicks into place like a glorious sonic puzzle and every note sounds as though it is the most deliberate in the world. This is the taut visceral side of Mogwai at their best.

But unlike their preceding long players, I'd have to say there are a number of tracks which feel like fillers and would have been better culled by Mogwai at mixing stage. The exacerbating factor is also that they all run together on the track listing. 'The Sun Smells Too Loud' is just downright annoying - lie a poorly written supermarket advert jingle. Even though more keys and samples are lavished on this track than any other on the album, it sounds so wooden. And it goes on and on for 7 minutes too. This is followed by 'King's Meadow', a very gentle but ultimately simplistic and uninspiring piece which does at least soothe your fraying nerves if nothing else.

Fortunately the rot is stemmed by the brooding 'I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School' which regains the gift of poise and tension before exploding into furious guitar squall battery for a finale that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. The final three tracks are quite sprawling pieces which are more about creating an overall atmosphere to the end of the record rather than a set of coherent 'songs'. This culminates in 'The Precipice' a psychedelic drone the likes of which Mogwai have previously perfected on 'My Father My King' and which they have managed to condense down from 12 minutes to a mere 6 minutes here.

So on the whole a pretty good return to form from Mogwai and one which I would be desperate to see played live at full fury - more than much of their recent work I'd think these tracks would really benefit from extreme volume. But at the same time this is a flawed masterpiece - there's just too much slack left on the album and if I had to pick between 'The Hawk is Howling' and Vessels' 'White Fields and Open Devices' for my post rock listening on CD then I think I would err towards the Leeds newcomers.



Big Life Desire - Dribs & Drabs 

When you get sent an album by a new band or artist to review, chances are it'll fall into one of two categories. Firstly there's the band with the five years plan: four or five earnest-looking young men or women, with fancy-looking press releases talking about the time they once nearly supported Hell is for Heroes, and ambitions to be on the cover of the NME within the year. Then there's the other group: the bedroom songwriters & DJs. The artists who know Peaches Geldof is never going to be photographed stumbling out of one of their gigs at 3am. For want of a better word, 'the amateurs'. As you've probably guessed this album, The first by London-based Keith Harbottle, falls firmly into the latter category and I should say now, (in case he's reading this) that isn't a criticism by any means. Hell, its a recommendation. This is a record which charms you as soon as the synth kicks in in a few seconds into the first track: 'Full of you'. Its 10 quirky unpretentious pop songs which win you over with their sheer sincerity. The Lightning Seeds would be a good comparison, or inexplicable late-nineties chart-toppers White Town - a mix of slightly geeky vocals and hummable tunes. You get the feeling from this record that Keith would still be making music regardless if this sold one copy or ten thousand, long after those other bands I talked about have started filling in their Tesco application forms.

Andy Glynn


Volcano! - Paperwork (Leaf)

If I wasn't already, I think I'd need to sit down. If ever a band earned their exclamation mark it was this lot. I figure there must be a maximum word limit for this review so I won't try and describe what Volcano! sound like and the sheer number of genres they go clattering through. There's a hint of Battles, a smidgen of Talking Heads, but the best comparison I can make is 'token jazz nominee for the mercury music prize'. Its funk you couldn't possibly dance to, music which changes its mind and veers off somewhere else every time you think you've got a handle on it. A little ritalin might be in order. The first three songs could conceivably be by three totally different bands, one of which is Sparks (playing afrobeat) . I couldn't possibly tell you if I liked this because I can barely sit up but wow, its fascinating.

Andy Glynn


Various: Cider Smiles Volume One 

It might seem a little pointless to review a comp of a festival that's already happened for this year but let me plug what 2000 Trees is all about so you can all go next year instead. A small 'environment-conscious' festival in the west country, the organisers are trying to put on a fest which doesn't leave the site as a smouldering crater once all the punters have all buggered off. Since the majority of the bigger summer festivals tend to resemble a medium-sized shopping centre dropped on a field from a great height, anything which tries minimize the strain on the planet can only be a good thing. They've considered the green implications of everything from travel to concessions and I'm told you're 50% less likely to be harassed by some knob on stilts dressed as a Martian than if you go to another festival (ok I lie, but I can dream can't I?)  You might not realise it but by sitting through a Razorlight set at Glastonbury or Reading you're seriously jeopardising the future. Your children deserve better. The comp (which is still available from at a thoroughly reasonable £3.99) ain't bad either, with tracks from Future of the Left, These New Puritans, Frank Turner and a host of others. go douse yourself with mud and lets pretend we actually had a summer this year.

Andy Glynn


Severe Zero - Dead Air 

This energetic three-piece’s debut album ‘Dead Air’ is the latest in a line of new wave punk bands that are breaking onto the music scene. Using very fast pace and heavy hitting guitar riffs it is no wonder that this band have already received rave reviews from the critics. With a sound very similar to that of Billy Talent, but adding their own musical interpretation to it, dare it be said, they may have beaten them at their own game. Severe Zero may be new on the punk scene but, make no mistake, just because they are the new kids boys on the block doesn’t mean they don’t know how to pack a punch. There is not a moment when listening to ‘Dead Air’ that you want to skip track or just turn the album off, you have to listen to it from start to end every time. If you are not a fan of Severe Zero then that is probably because you haven’t heard their music. Even if you are not a punk fan, you can appreciate that this is just three fantastic musicians, producing great music and giving it everything they’ve got whilst doing so. Songs such as ‘Silence On The Radio’ and ‘The Power It Gives’ are probably the most ‘stand out’ tracks on the album but it is difficult to pick just two tracks. ‘Dead Air’ is a thirteen track punk onslaught and if you love punk you will love every track and you will love Severe Zero. For those who have not heard of Severe Zero at present,  come October 8th when ‘Dead Air’ is released then they will be a name to be reckoned with in the music world. So become a fan now before everyone jumps on the band wagon because Severe Zero are a band that you will want to be part of.

Tim Birkbeck


Sway - The Signature LP

Well, well, well. We're lucky people aren't we? Sway is back believing his own hype (see the voice over on opener Fit for a King) yet loosing no integrity, style, grit, passion and the talent of the rhyme. In fact all these have been improved on since the Mercury nominated This is my Demo debut.

First single from the album Saturday Night Fever makes ex-Fame Academy winner Lemar seem credible (as is the power of Mr Desafo) while F UR X features up and coming female MC Stush and is more likely to bust the charts than the former. Jason Waste is a track about a woman-beating; lazy and betraying man and is almost the last tune featuring a dance-able beat behind it, five tracks into a thirteen track modern hip-hop album. The next three tracks give RnB induced slow-burners somewhat of a renaissance. Pray for Kaya in particular is the emotional, heart twisting biographical track which Dry Your Eyes (by The Streets) could only imagine being in its wet dreams. Walk Away also gives Sway room to show his dismay at the modern street culture, and modern times hysteric reaction to it: sometimes in life, it takes a man to think twice/throw away the big gun, put away that big knife. What is striking across these three tracks (including Look After my Girl) and across the LP as a whole is the personal references no generic, mediocre gangsta rap here people, this is a modern UK MC. The beats and the words never let up, nor so does the pace or the affect.

On Upload the North Londoner states if people are stealing my tunes it must mean their feeling my tunes, while continuing the war for and against technologically he follows this up later with: See me on YouTube/I'm on Bebo/and Wikipedia/enough reviews on Online Media/I am practically living in your house.

Roots Manuva too has released another seminal Brit-Hop album earlier this month. Were living in exciting times where the British MC is king while indie is off to New York (again). Many of us have been listening to certain chart-topping MCs because they have been purposely jumping ship to the next big sound; Roots and Sway are breaking boundaries just by making great records. No less, and often far more.

Nick Burman


Tilly And The Wall - O (Moshi Moshi)

Tilly starts off with 'Tall Tall Grass', an acoustic/keyboard ballad of the confessional variety, hten a rotten loud guitar solo comes along and nearly wrecks everything. Too late, mum and dad, Tilly is a loud rock grrl as of second track 'Pot Kettle Black'.

This is what listening to PJ Harvey does to impressionable young minds; one minute they're thoughtfully strumming along to granny's Joan Baez album, next thing you know they're the glam-trash answer to Sons & Daughters, it is actually 1974, and what's worse these errant delinquents have been accidentally booked to perform at the local Spanish restaurant's opening night (plentiful sitcom fodder amongst all this lot).

Flamenco and Mariachi touches enliven much of the earlier part of 'Tilly And The Wall'. There's also an air of style-by-numbers around though. Tilly And The Wall can't quite decide whether they're Mud, The Raveonettes, or actually S Club 7 and whether you the listener find this refreshingly eclectic or a bit all over the place will, ultimately, depend entirely on your own level of cynicism. Go on, admit it, you actually enjoy stuff like this although you'd never let it slip in public - 'Tilly And The Wall' is a classic pop record replete with classic hooks, it's a breathtakingly diverse range of styles carried off with skill and elan, it's how the Human League should've sounded ....

Expect to find Tilly And The Wall hanging around outside the 100 Club and looking a bit moody, in 2010 or thereabouts.

Jon Gordon


Bellowhead - 'Matachin' (Navigation)

A 'Matachin' is a dance of mostly Mediterranean origin whose name derives either from the Arabic for 'Mask Wearer' or the Italian for 'Little Fool', and is apparently the origin of our own Morris dance. Are any of the 10 tracks on this album actual Moroccan folk dance tunes? Probably none of them but Bellowhead have gone well out of their way to properly source their material and there isn't anything on 'Matachin' that you couldn't actually dance to.

Variously, the songs derive from sea shanties, street chants, Rudyard Kipling and the now apparently closed Folklore Department of Sheffield University. Other sources include 17th century broadside ballads, one example of which, 'Widows Curse' has been put to music entirely by Bellowhead themselves, and a pretty grim tale of debauchery and its gruesome after effects it is, what with its rakish protagonist 'screaming and writhing in everlasting doom' like something out of a 1950s horror comic. You could dance to it though.

This is the Bellowhead approach to any subject, no matter how grisly; strike up an oompah, whistle in the dark, and throw in some medieval dance steps for good measure. Thing is, a conventional rock group wouldn't get away with stuff like this unless they were all actually wearing masks and impersonating a plane crash into the bargain (eg: Slipknot). Doubtless the 'Ballad Of The Amateur Plastic Surgeon' isn't very far off. Bellowhead make a lively racket all the same, though.

Jon Gordon