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  albums - november 2008

 
 
 

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with Harem Scarem & Alex Neilson - Is it the Sea? (Domino)

His second release in the space of two months, this album captures Will Oldham on his 2006 British & Irish tour. With a set that spans most of his career, this album would make a decent primer to his massive body of work. Backed with full instrumentation, these songs take on a completely different feel to the original versions, and Harem Scarem's Backing vocals add a real 'choir of angels' feel to counteract the more morbid songs like 'Love comes to me'. Its bittersweet throughout, but Oldham sounds like he's having a blast, rather than being on the verge of slashing his wrists. Its definitely a 'mood' album, but on a cold winter's night, you can turn up the heating, pour yourself a whiskey, cuddle up with someone, and put this record on. It'll distract you from the intense bleakness of existence for a while.

Andy Glynn


 

Moody McArdle - Fractured Soul 

Its hard to know what to say about an album which does exactly what it was created to do, even if that happens to be something I can't stand. Because, despite the band's claim that this is 'a journey into the darkest recesses of the human mind', this is an album thats aiming straight for the stadiums. They've made this an album full of big gestures and grand stirring anthems, but in the process it seems to have bypassed any sort of human connection. The title track is a case in point; it starts as a minimal acoustic ballad but by the end of 3 minutes everything but kitchen sink's been thrown in to create a massive over-produced epic. Fair enough, but this happens on every track. There are some good ideas here, but they're never left to run their course, but tinkered with, and coated in layers of synths, thousands of guitars and tons of reverb. Its not that the production's bad. Its perfect, like something they'd give away as a demo on a music production magazine, but as such is completely devoid of any edge. These are songs made to be yelled, shirtless from a clifftop, and they're as good an example of that sort of music as you're likely to find. Its just that personally, it leaves me cold.

Andy Glynn

 

Globo - This Nation's Saving Grace 

Theres enough potential trauma involved in any cover version, so choosing to remake an entire album by another artist, seems like a massive risk. When that band are one as singular and eccentric as the Fall, well, you must be barmy. Produced for a 'Fall conference' in Manchester last year (I can only assume half the delegates were beaten up and thrown out halfway through, for that real Fall experience), Globo & a mish mash collective of musicians have remade '...Saving Grace' for the 21st century. And it works, sort of. It starts with a few seconds of ominous movie-score noises before the familiar riff of 'Mansion' comes bounding in accompanied by some rather nifty DJ Shadow-ish beats. Instantly you're drawn into the same grimy world as the original. A world of grey, wet northern industrial towns where everyone grimaces and probably smokes too much. Its spite and squalor, but this time with beats. 'What you need becomes a blues-y stomp-along, 'L.A' sounds like Depeche Mode, and 'Paintwork' goes all acoustic and dissonant. Sometimes its a little to reverent to the source material, but if anything the familiarity makes you realise what a compelling album this was in the first place, making the songs sound like old standards. But theres one obvious and unavoidable problem. The revolving group of vocalists all do a good job, but trying to fill in for Smith, was always going to be an impossible task, since he basically is the Fall (Zen question, If you take Mark E. Smith out of a bunch of Fall songs, are they still Fall songs?). Its still a fascinating experiment and for the obsessive Fall fan, (and lets face it, thats the only type) you've just found another fall-related album to add to the 37 you've already got.

Andy Glynn

 
 

Robin Guthrie - 3:19 

The soundtrack to the soon to be released film of the same name; 3:19 is a set of ten instrumentals from ex Cocteau twin, Robin Guthrie. Reminiscent of his previous band, as well as the chorus-pedal-heavy likes of the Icicle Works or the Cure, (especially Disintegration) it's a record full of ethereal swells and lush, heady atmospherics. Removed from the film, it's always going to be lacking a piece of the puzzle and I don't doubt it'll make far more sense having seen it. Still, it's a fine album and would make a decent companion to Kevin Shield's Lost in Translation Soundtrack.

Andy Glynn

 

Tinpots - Softhead

Sometimes, you come across a record so full of vigour and joie de vivre, that you can almost forgive it a lot of it's failings. I said 'almost.' The sugar-sweet harmonies and soft, wistful songs like 'Take them in' could probably melt even the most cynical of listener's hearts. Theres a real bar-room feel to these folky, poppy songs, and the production's nicely understated. There are a few missteps; the foray into light funk that is 'Coincidental Song' is best forgotten, and things get dangerously twee at points but in general this is a decent record. Its just... I get the feeling this is a record made by normal, well-adjusted people. Maybe its just a bit too nice. Those who expect their artists to be at least a little fucked up and emotionally unhinged might be disappointed.

Andy Glynn

 

Black Light Burns - Cover Your Heart 

Some people may never have heard of Black Light Burns, but every song on Cover Your Heart will sound familiar. This is because this album is a compilation of cover songs, although not with the usual treatment of cover songs - they possess a very dark and gritty quality to them. The reason for this covers album is because the mastermind behind Black Light Burns wanted to pay tribute to some of his musical influences. Who is this mastermind you may be wondering?  The man who has came up with this unusual combination of music and songs is none other than Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland. Limp Bizkit achieved critical acclaim for their cover of George Michal’s ‘Faith’ and Borland has just taken this to the next level. The problem with producing a covers album is that people will always compare it with the original, no matter how good the version is. In this case I don’t think the covers live up to the originals, which is a shame because Black Light Burns are definitely a talented band but maybe trying to emulate already successful songs was not the right direction for them. What Borland has done is very brave and especially as he is now the front man, the pressure falls on his shoulders. Maybe, however, adding this dark, edgy twist to some songs was just a bit too much of a risk. When Black Light Burns do play an upbeat song they show glimpses of their quality, but it’s just not consistent throughout the album. Their cover of Duran Duran’s ’Hungry Like The Wolf’, for example, is the highlight of the album as it is upbeat and fun rather than dark and gloomy. If you are a fan of cover albums this may not be the one for you. If Black Light Burns go on to produce songs of their own, however, then that could be a completely different story. 

Tim Birkbeck

 

Hush Arbors - Hush Arbors

Low-fi Psychedelic Folk is a curious concept, akin, one can only imagine, to what those poor hippies who took the brown acid at Woodstock were experiencing. For Hush Arbors on this, their first release on Ecstatic Peace following a stream of self releases, the ingredients are all there - the fuzzed out free-form solos, the chiming acoustic and jangling electric guitars - yet the ultimate effect is a muted version of what you'd expect from a band so entrenched on the paths set out by The Byrds “Fifth Dimension“. More a rainbow of soft pastels, the album cover is the brightest thing on this record, and despite cleaning up their sound significantly, singer Keith Wood's fragile falsetto that he employs throughout still threatens to crumble under the muddy mix. Although it possesses the plaintive honesty of a Neil Young it lacks the depth to really carry an engaging melody. As a result the strongest songs on the album are the more melodically sparse, instrumentally stripped down numbers such as the exquisite Rue Hollow, which, with its “tell her I’m doing fine” refrain, evokes a similar sense of wistful yearning on a par with Mark Kozelek's recent work with Sun Kil Moon, and the hypnotic mantra-like Bless You, which lasts a good three minutes before getting caught by the fuzz. That’s not to say the rest of Wood’s material is of a weaker quality, it merely suffers due to the foggy production. "Gone", with its crunching, head-nodding riff is reminiscent of Jimmy Page-era Yardbirds, and the Byrds-esque The Light has an hippy-anthem quality in tune with the height of the original 60s Psychedelic Folk movement, but on both numbers Keith Woods tender vocals threaten to be drowned out in the mix. Still, this is a big step forward for Hush Arbors and points to a brighter output in the future.

Stephen Jessep

 

Psapp - The Camel's Back (Domino)

Despite inadvertently muddling the press releases of this month's Psapp single and album, it is quite clear without prompting what Psapp are about and where 'The Camel's Back' has seen them heading. Their previous two long players 'Tiger My Friend' and 'The Only Thing I Ever Wanted' were brimming over with found sounds and kooky arrangements. This time around things have been tightened up a bit, they are more conventionally arranged and the emphasis has turned a little more towards a traditional musicianship. Well, certainly in terms of a normal Psapp release - for anyone else this would be completely wacky.

But the signs from Galia and Carim are there from the outset - jazzy progressions and horns  to 'I Want That', Central American vibes to 'Part Like Waves' (which features a killer key change in the chorus). In fact there's no cat-based jiggery pokery until 'Fix It' when a squeaky sample of one of our feline friends eventually works its way in between the other 40 odd effects.

I've got to admit I was a bigger fan of the kitchen sink approach to composition on the previous two albums than I am of this more polished affair. There just seemed to be something about it which made it seem more direct and more vulnerable. But having said that, 'The Camel's Back' is also a fine record - Psapp squeeze more inventiveness into every track that most artists manage in a lifetime and I could listen to Galia's velvet vocals all day. I'm now going to form a musical instrument from a shower hose, some treacle and a piece of fluff I found in my belly button...
www.psapp.net

SB

 

Kerrang! The Album ‘08

Clearly a mass conspiracy by the emokid-fuelling, Japanese sounding impossibly thin for the money paid rag, led to my promo failing to work at all in a multitude of music playing devices. As a result I shall merely be drawing assumptions of bands whose names and song titles I disapprove of and a majority of valid opinions of songs from the two dud discs provided of this compilation.

Overall this is a fairly diverse and in depth view of modern (quote/unquote) rock music with everything from Alkaline Trio to Weezer making an aural appearance, and so for even the most anal of music listeners will find something to nod their head to. Whilst the title suggests that the music is from 2008 however we can instead find some rather peculiar choices (American Idiot makes an appearance for no particular reason) but overall if you’ve paid attention at the back in the last couple of years you won’t be too surprised.

The general cream of the crop are Biffy Clyro, Dillinger Escape Plan, Madina Lake, Kids in Glass Houses, Cancer Bats, Gallows, The Gaslight Anthem, Enter Shikari and Killswitch Engage, as both discs one and two give established artists and new hotshots some airtime. You do however find yourself skipping over some of the lesser tracks depending on your tastes swiftly but its worth it to reach these gems. For example Kid Rock and Nickelback are a double whammy of the worst of American radio rock and unfortunately enough they are tracks one and two respectively, thus leaving little time to escape before your ears enter meltdown. Similarly CD2 begins with Green Day and My Chemical Romance, again not to everyone’s tastes.

So a general mixed bag, but for a general anthology of what contemporary rock music has been up to the last few years it serves as a useful benchmark.
www.kerrang.com

Chris Sharpe

 

Kingskin - Rhyme For Small time  

Two years ago Kingskin won Kerrang’s best unsigned band competition, now two years on they are releasing their long awaited debut album ‘Rhyme For Smalltime’. With their classic rock’n’ roll sound merged with a bit of 90’s grunge they produce a unique sound. On this occasion, however, uniqueness just doesn’t cut it as the album lacks a killer punch. It has everything leading up to it - furious guitars and strong lyrics but it just seems to lack something. It maybe that every song seems to follow a rather simple line, with no great variety between each track. I know the saying goes that if something isn’t broken don’t fix it, but Kingskin have stuck to that theory a little too religiously, making their music a little too rigid.  Kingskin perhaps made a conscious decision to appeal to a very narrow market and  maybe it works for them. It does seem, though, that they are trying too hard to be alternative and this may alienate them from a much larger fan base. It just seems like Kingskin are 10 years too late in coming onto the scene, whereas they would probably have had a greater following in the 90’s.

Tim Birkbeck

 

Blackmarket – The Elephant in the Room

Smelling a bit like Biffy Clyro, who smell a bit like Foo Fighters Blackmarket are a salt-of-the-earth rock band. Their style goes along the lines of get the riff down, get the big drum beats in there then make sure people can jump to it. They have put consideration into their lyrics and front man Daryl Lamont has a clichéd voice but is likable enough. The ‘infectious’ ‘Sheila’ falls flat and doesn’t get stuck where it wants to (in your head). ‘An Alibi Can’t Give Me A Place To Go’ has a fat bass and a plucky guitar line which over take the majority of the Reading festival main-stage-by-numbers material here.

It’s not bad by any means; this lot pull off what many a modern day teenaged pub band could only wish to achieve. Some would argue they’re more style over substance but to their credit the sound is by no means ‘of the minute’ and definitely not following any of the current extra-cool genres appearing, which is refreshing. The problem with Blackmarket not being ‘of the minute’ is that they miss the mood of the current pop landscape – not running with it in a new direction or catching a certain mood in a different light it just sounds out of time. In short ‘The Elephant in the Room’ is unnecessary.
Watch the video to 'Sheila'
www.myspace.com/blackmarketaz

Nick Burman

 

South Central – The Owl of Minerva

Reviewing dance music is a bit odd. Underneath a stack of strobes with a rig of thousand watt amps while surrounded by any number of dancing people it’ll sound fantastic. On record (or when not being spun in a set) it always sounds a bit pale. South Central are definitely not a recording band, none of the subtleties which indie-dance genre crossers have are within any of these tracks but turned up to 11 on your amp and with a few Tequila slammers down your neck it’s worth checking out. This EP, therefore, is good for those who simply want to download a few tracks to see what they make of it. After that buy a few of their 12”s, play it in between Boys Noize and The Proxy then you’ll see why Erol Alkan and Justice are making all this fuss over tracks such as ‘Golden Dawn’. Dance music for dance music fans, or pissed people.

Nick Burman

 

Funeral for a Friend – Memory and Humanity

For some years now Wales has produced some cracking rock bands and one of the founder bands of their genre return.... Funeral for a Friend are back and back to their best! Their latest album has echoes of every album they have ever released and is certainly one of their best, after the massive hype and utter disappointment that was Tales Don’t Tell Themselves the lads have gone away and rediscovered themselves. This low key release of Memory and Humanity seems to have been an excellent move by the band. They suffered from too much wrong press at the release of the last album and they have not let that disappointment hold them back while producing this album if anything they seem even stronger. From the start of the 1st track fans will hear the Heavy Drums, Loud bass and rocking riffs that define the bands first 2 Studio albums it makes you want to turn up the volume. The rest of the album pretty much follows the same theme which is exactly what I was waiting for from this band back to what they are good at doing and not trying to change their sound, there are tracks on the album which break the FFAF mould to which are excellent additions and keep the album flowing. At points I found myself thinking when is the disappointing album killing song coming? The answer was never, from start to finish this is a very solid album from one of Britain’s best rock bands of recent years.
www.funeralforafriend.com
Listen to the whole album at www.ilike.com/artist/Funeral+For+A+Friend

Chris Campbell

 

Threatmantics – Upbeat Love (Double Six)

A Welsh three piece with viola, vocal, guitar, keyboard and drums, (yes I'm aware that's five things for three people,) when you look at them on paper, Threatmantics have potential to be quite exciting.

The first single from the album, and the opening track “Big Man,”
doesn't exploit the crazy instrumental mix up as much as I'd like, featuring just a basic drum beat, distorted vocals, keyboards, and some very Blood Red Shoes-esque guitars – but maintains a good energetic feel throughout.

Track two, how very Coral, “Buried Alive,” is rather good. You'll find yourself nodding and tapping along to this no trouble, until the song reaches a climax of, oh I don't know what; that could be viola and keyboard, but it's the musical equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard.

“Don't Care” features verses that, and I might be wrong, are sung in Welsh. “I don't know what you just said and I don't care,” makes up the chorus, and I couldn't agree more. The song features a nice viola line and builds into fast-pace chaotic nonsense, but now I'm looking for some tracks with some intricacy. Thus far, everything's been a bit basic.

Okay so maybe that's too much to ask for. The remaining five tracks all follow suit, but despite their simplicity, they're very promising. A slightly country, alternative vibe with splashes of punk here and there, both in the heavier parts, and general song structure.

Imagine The Levellers, White Stripes, and The Coral, somehow spawning lovechild triplets – and you have Threatmantics.

Thom Curtis

 

South Central – The Owl of Minerva

Reviewing dance music is a bit odd. Underneath a stack of strobes with a rig of thousand watt amps while surrounded by any number of dancing people it’ll sound fantastic. On record (or when not being spun in a set) it always sounds a bit pale. South Central are definitely not a recording band, none of the subtleties which indie-dance genre crossers have are within any of these tracks but turned up to 11 on your amp and with a few Tequila slammers down your neck it’s worth checking out. This EP, therefore, is good for those who simply want to download a few tracks to see what they make of it. After that buy a few of their 12”s, play it in between Boys Noize and The Proxy then you’ll see why Erol Alkan and Justice are making all this fuss over tracks such as ‘Golden Dawn’. Dance music for dance music fans, or pissed people.

Nick Burman

 
 

Various: The Glasgow School of Art Goes Pop (Art Goes Pop)

No wonder Scotland wants to be independent from us English, first we call Andy Murray ‘British’ in attempt to make it look as if he has anything to do with the capital other than playing tennis there for one competition a year, and then they obviously don’t want this compilation to make it look like the whole of Britain is a wealth of indie-pop experimental glory. Super hip Yorkshire indie label Art/Goes/Pop has collected the best bands from Glasgow’s famous art school with their mates and any other affiliates of the Glasgow arty scene.

Glasvegas aren’t the only secret that has been hiding North of the border; Isosceles kick off proceedings with a catchy number based around the self-titled refrain. Hidden Masters offer a twisted 60s number with ‘Shakin’, Sparrow and the Workshop showcase one of the sweetest numbers on the record, the front woman’s voice backed by swooning hearts and a soft snare drum beat. A large proportion of the first half of the twenty three tracks have the sixties tones of melody and basic verse/chorus/verse/break song structure while generally having very general references with a modern classical feel. Of course, new Scotland’s most loved sons Biffy Clyro don’t take long to emerge as an influence, Clean George (despite the rubbish name) manage the best effort with the riff based, synth bathed ‘A Five For You’.

Not all of it’s up to scratch, but that’s probably down to personal taste. As anthologies go, this is ninety percent brilliant, so the curators can give themselves a smug pat on the back. Fangs (track ‘Panic Attack’ remixed here) recently went onto T4s Saturday-afternoon’s-for-hung-over-people Unsigned Act show, where Alex James considerably described them as the best band he’s ever seen on the shows short history. With this stomper for your ears, you can see why the ex-Blur man puts them in such high regard.

Expansive, thrilling and motivational, it’s all enough to make you think why Europe’s supposed ‘capital of culture’ Liverpool hasn’t produced a band other than The (fucking) Wombats all year. Ignore the nay sayers, indie’s not dead, it merely emigrated out of sight, got a bit chilly and has been reborn with gritted teeth. This is one school I wouldn’t say no to learning at. Buy into it now, while we can still call it British.

Nick Burman

 

Those Dancing Days - In Our Space Hero Suits (Witchita)

Fairly bland Swedish pop, it’s hard to pin down why nothing from this album sticks in your brain for more than the fleeting few minutes of each track. Perhaps it’s the lyrics. Fair play to anyone who attempts to write a song in another language, it must be incredibly difficult, but the descriptions here are awkward, and bland. Devoid of the innocent resonance of say, CSS on their debut album, here the words are just a bit all over the place. The same can’t be said of the music which is controlled and polished, the drums and bass are very deliberate, not loose or even slightly improvised.

I suppose you could lazily compare them to the Cardigans, both in their sound and their utter predictability. It’s not awful, just a bit ploddy, so I never really sat up and took notice of anything other than the nonsensical syntax, unfortunately.

Ian Anderson

 

The Travelling Band - Under the Pavement

The Travelling Band make quirky, mellow, folk music. Discretely layering their sound and gently adding more instruments and vocals into each song. Its lovely summers day music being released in the middle of November but hey, I’m not complaining.

Only Waiting is probably the album’s high point, the singer’s naturally high tone being given lots of room to breathe and a cello stitching the semi-acoustic guitars together.

There’s lots of instruments, usually used cleverly, such as the sitar on Desolate Icicle which has an incredibly reminiscent chorus that I can’t quite place, I really like it though. They use two / three / four part harmonies, a bit like Tramp Attack, which feels like a forgotten art these days, so that’s refreshing to hear too.

Sometimes when they up the intensity, the structure of the song can get cluttered, but I get the feeling that they have plenty of time on their side to sort that out. When the Travelling Band keep it simple, quiet and slightly psychedelic, time stands still. Definitely a band to look out for.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Various: Nineteen78 (Filthy Little Angels)

It was thirty years ago today, pop pickers: a collection of some of the movers and shakers of that Golden Year of 1978, re-recorded and re-interpreted by some of todays most influential young perfomers. It is, as you might expect, a masterpiece in its own right. Starting with Billy Ruffians' scarily accurate cover of Public Image's eponymous debut single (and top marks to the Rufflers for getting Keith Levine's guitar style practically note perfect), the following 17 tracks are a NowThatsWhatICallArtrockInA70sStylee compilation of moments of occasional genius. Hot Beds transform (Siouxsies')Hong Kong Garden into a leisurely electro stroll: Neon Sleeps' similar interpretation of (Elvis Costello's) Pump It Up gives the original a frantic remake: Shock & Awe give (The Only Ones') Another Girl Another Planet an authentic late 70s crank up, away from the louche semi-prog of what was one of last years surprise advert backing tracks: Ginger Toms' retake of (Radio Stars') Nervous Wreck has all the goofed claustrophobia of the original and an authentic RnB strut of the Dr Feelgood variety, but the position of top of these particular pop's has to go to The Gaa Gaas' autodestruction of (Plastique Bertrands') Ca Plan Pour Moi, originally a sub-Ramonesy 78 novelty recorded by one of Belguims' best remembered one hit wonders, and now torn apart on the altar of lo-fi electronica with only a harmonica break to remind us of how the original tune must've sounded. Anyone who actually remembers the late 70s will find all of this at the very least amusing, while anyone aged under 40 will find at least half of the tracks here as gritty and occasionally obnoxious as they sounded three decades ago : 'reversing into tomorrow' was one of the more prominent Mclarenesque slogans of the era and every band featured on 'Nineteen78' are doing exactly that.

Jon Gordon

 

Ray Lamontagne – Gossip In The Grain (14th Floor Records)

Ray Lamontagne – the acceptable face of Radio 2. Well, certianly more acceptable than a Mr Brand or Mr Ross anyway. This album’s got ‘safe’ and ‘won’t offend anyone ever’ written all over, but that doesn’t mean it’s complete tripe. ‘Trouble’, Lamontagne’s break through single, fell into the same category, but it still emotion in the bucket load.

Gossip In The Grain, his third album is generally more of the same. There’s the odd swing track (Radio 2 sponsored, perhaps), but mainly soft, shuffling, acoustic ballads. Ray Lamontage’s USP is undoubtedly that voice – the gravelly, soulful, heart-metling voice. Surely men acorss the nation must rejoice everytime this man brings a new album out – it’s perfect for wives and girlfriends – everything you think you should be saying all wrappd up in a jewel case.

Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame) shows Ray Lamontagne’s vocal versatility, as he takes on a ‘I’ve smoked 60 a day since I was 5’ sound, almost like Tom Waits but with a softer edge. This percussive, juggernaut of a track is definitely a highlight – it’s just a shame the rest of the album doesn’t have the same level of excitement and interest.

Whilst Radio 2 controllers may rejoice (if there’s any left), this album hints at how good it could be, but leaves it at that – a mere hint.

Catriona Boyle

 

Amadou & Mariam - ‘Welcome to Mali’

It would be all to easy to simply label Amadou & Mariam as ‘World Music’ and file it away in the deepest darkest part of the record store were only Guardian readers venture, but with there latest offering ‘Welcome to Mali’ they go all out to show their impressive musical range. Stand out tracks include ‘Djuru’ which beats out a trademark tragic rhythm and outstanding ‘Africa’ which features Somalian rapper K’Naan. The only minor flaw that this album has is that at some point a record executive thought it would be a good idea to let Damon Albarn have a fiddle about and ruin the first two tracks reducing them do wonky electro mush but apart from this minor blip it still an amazing piece of work.

Anthony Chrisp

 

The Paddingtons - ‘No Mundane Options’

The Paddingtons are cunts, no really I’ve met them they really are a bunch of complete and utter cunts but I won’t let this personal vendetta affect my review of there latest album. The Paddingtons ‘No Mundane Options’ is one of the worst albums I have ever heard in my life, with its perfect blend of pointless lyrics and appalling melodies. It does however have one thing going for it; it has one of the most fantastically ironic titles in music history. In the scheme of things I feel I would rather invite Gary Glitter to bring his entire back catalogue around and then leave him to explain his music to my young relatives in a dark windowless room then give this album a second listen.

Anthony Chrisp

 

Dengue Fever - 'Venus On Earth' (Proper)

'The worlds premier Cambodian psychedelic band' says the press blurb. I'm listening ... They've got a saxophone. When did I last hear a proper sax break on a track? There's a short but highly effective piece of horn work in the middle of first track 'Seeing Hands', alongside some nifty guitar and some faintly mysterious oriental female vocals. Very pleasant.

As far as I can make out only one member of Dengue Fever is actually Cambodian, but don't let that put you off an album that can genuinely match up to the description 'quirky'. Surf guitars collide with blaring farfisa keyboards and enigmatic vocals a go-go, and while the first half of 'Venus On Earth' has a decidedly noir-ish feel to it, later tracks display an altogether rockier edge that weirdly conjures shades of some of the baggier pop sounds of the early 90s.

As the album progresses Dengue Fever expand their repetoire into progressive style folk-rock (Tooth And Nail) and chirpy manga pop (Mr Orange) and while the range of influences is wide-ranging these never seem to overwhelm each other, leading to an album whose entire mood is an oddly subdued late-night-beach-bonfire one. Gigging around the UK this month, what Salisbury will make of Dengue Fever is anyone's guess.

Jon Gordon

 

Various: 1957: When Skiffle Was King (Delta)

2008 was a vintage year for style documentaries, for grainy b/w film clips of rebellious young people from the 50s/60s70s and interviews with assorted survivors of the period. An hour long documentary dosn't neccesarily make sufficient room for the sounds of any particular era though, and I was quite interested to find this 24 track compilationof exactly what was floating the newly affluent teenage boats of 51 years ago.

Unlike the Nineteen78 comp, these tracks are all originals, and while the album is billed as a celebration of Skiffle, there are several genres of late 50s music on display here. Skiffle itself, that combination of acoustic folk and home made instruments, is amply represented here and most notably by Lonnie Donegan, whose rockabilly music hall style made him the UKs first million selling performer. He's joined here by the NcDevitt/Whiskey band, one or two early numbers from Tommy Steele and most interestingly The Vipers, whose work trod the line between the espresso folk circuit and the beginnings of the early 60s beat boom.

Other highlights are some lively trad jazz from Chris Barber, Dale Hawkins' proto-garage anthem 'Suzie Q' and a song that didn't quite feature in the 50s music documentary I saw on BBC2 earlier this year although the story of its performer did - Terry Dene, whose career was cut short by his being sent into the army, but not before he'd recorded 'A White Sports Coat'. Anyone wondering exactly what their grandad did his bopping to need look no further, this album is an essential listen for anyone interested in the period and goes some way towards filling the gaps in those documentary soundtracks.

 

Benji Hughes - A Love Extreme

With the playfully titled A Love Extreme, North Carolina’s Benji Hughes joins an exclusive club of artists audacious enough to introduce themselves to the public with a debut double album. At 25 tracks long its eclectic mix of piano balladry, folk pop and synth-rock presents much here for Magnetic Fields fans to admire, but the manner in which he deftly alternates between alcohol-sodden melancholy, heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism and tongue in cheek humour pegs Benji out as a modern day Harry Nilsson (the influence of whom is felt most strongly on Neighbour Down The Hall). Of the three lyrical approaches though it is the latter which stands out the strongest – Benji’s songs are awash with endearingly self-deprecating lyrics that refreshingly separate him from both the arrogant and the wallowing self-pity schools of contemporary singer-songwriters. On Why Do These Parties Always End The Same Way?, with it’s irresistible vocoder-backed indie disco chorus, he bemoans drunkenly obtaining numbers from girls only to forget their names the morning after, while on You Stood Me Up he laments “I can’t believe you tried to lie/You said you had bronchitis/When you were out with some other guy”. Even when he’s not poking fun at himself there’s still much wit to be found elsewhere, such as on the folk-pop of The Mummy, which overflows with nonsense lyrics, or Tight Tee Shirt, which applies its fetishist innuendoes with all the panache of ZZ Top’s Eliminator. Musically where the album comes together best is on the up-tempo numbers, with Benji’s slacker drawl perfectly counter-balanced by the air-tight arrangements, and the breadth of styles is impressive: the Strokes-fuelled jazz-rock of Even If sitting beside the Mercury Revved Disney-pop of Girl In The Tower. True, given its length it’s less focused than you’d normally expect of a debut album, and at three years in the making it’d be disappointing if it’s the opening and closing statement on Benji’s career, but for the meantime there’s much here to raise a wry smile.
www.myspace.com/benjihughes

Stephen Jessep

 

Ross Royce - Life Worth Living

Success in Australia, however minimal, is never a glowing endorsement. For every AC/DC or Nick Cave our colonial cousins have given us there are at least ten Silverchair's, Maroon 5's or, god help us, Savage Garden. It's not their fault: Britain got the rain and America got the civil rights struggle. Australia got year-round sun and the White Australia Policy. So now, when the cringingly monikered Ross Royce (real name Ross Nicholson) opens his debut album Life Worth Living with the line "I've been wasting all my life in factories" with all the authenticity of Ghost World's Blueshammer, it's hard not to chuckle. This is glam power-pop of the least subtle in-your-face variety, lifting cues from Ziggy-era Bowie, Cheap Trick, Elton John, ELO and The Sweet of all people. In Turn U On (text generation look out) he informs us all that "it's a new millenium" eight years too late, whilst earlier he begins Mrs. Vain in Ryan Adams at his arrogant worst-mode with the patronising statement "this is rock n' roll people", clearly
forgetting that it was over thirty years ago that John Lennon described Glam Rock as "rock n' roll with lipstick", before later in the song breaking into, of all things, a rap - "I want to flam it, slam it, stick it and ram it" he proclaims. Sorry, flam it? Yes, it's the lyrics that really stand out here, and on Mixed Up World the temptation to reprint in full is too tempting. "The guy's want sex, the girl's want space, we live in a fucked up, mixed up race", he testifies, "what we gonna do all you girls and boys?" It's truely a conundrum (though we should assume by "race" he means "human race" and was merely confronted by that old problem of the rhyme that wouldn't fit). I could go on, so I will - "I hang out at pubs, I hang out at clubs, I hang out with people who like to do drugs/You so unhappy part of the machine/You're acting like babies, you know what I mean?" Erm, if I say yes will you stop?

Stephen Jessep

 

The Marches - '4 a.m. Is The New Midnight' (Satellite/Star)

When a group of musicians sets itself an awkward sounding task in terms of influences and their combinations, then it either works or it doesn't. Attempting to describe your material - as The Marches do - as a mixture of (deep breath) Electro/Motown/Indie Dance/Classical, while oddly forgetting to mention the quite apparent Jazz threads that run through '4 a.m...' sounds a little like overstretching things. Then I notice that the album is more or less entirely the work of Chicago based composer Richard Conti, and eleven of his friends, so of course not entirely everyone agreed exactly on what everything sounded like.

And it does sound like some quality electronics, in the aiming-for-the-mainstream-if-we-can-only-find-a-properly-kooky-yet-sensuous-female-vocalist-sort-of-Ashlee-Simpson-except-a-brunette kind of way, and is probably what The Marches really mean when they describe themselves in such depth. Their best moments aren't really the electronic ones though, there's the scatty horn breaks of 'Rudolph Valentino', the querulous vocal twists of 'Need Me Back' and the instrumental 'Ghost Of A Chance', whose brittle, wintry keyboard airs are the real album highlight and prove quite firmly that there's more to Richard Conti's talents than just programming sequencers, which is a skill in itself but we, the listening public, need REAL tunes. The Marches deliver these with a skillful combination of élan and brio, plus actual talent, and I've uploaded '4 a.m...' onto my mp3 player, partly as it sounds a lot like a dub version of Katy Perry's album, and that isn't the worst record any of us heard this year. Is it?

Jon Gordon

 

Severenth - The Age Of Paranoia

If you want to know what it’s like to be stuck in the middle of a hurricane, then just listen to Severenth. The album doesn’t even give you a chance to get comfortable before it launches into a fast pace onslaught which will just knock any listener off their feet. This five piece band have really brought an edge to heavy metal music which seems to have been lacking in some bands in recent years. They have gone back to basics - shredding guitar riffs, blasting drum beats and violent aggressive vocals which would send a shiver down anyone’s spine. The screams of vocalist Peet are almost haunting; this is what heavy metal bands need to achieve in order to bring that fearsome, angry quality to their music. Severenth ticks every box towards becoming a successful heavy metal band and it should come as no surprise that they have shared a stage with bands like Ill Nino, 3 Inches of Blood and Bring Me The Horizon. There isn’t a song on the album that doesn’t lend itself to ‘head banging’ and, for all you metal fans who love your ‘windmills’, then this album will make you want to grow your hair just so you can join in! Even when Severenth slow things down a bit with ‘The Regret’ their amazing talent still comes shining through. It is obvious that their influences are bands such as Chimaira and Ill Nino but they have put their own stamp on things and taken their music to the next level. I don’t think it will be long until Severenth are among the big boys of heavy metal and become well recognised on the music scene.

Tim Birkbeck

 

The Religious Knives – The Door (Ecstatic Peace)

Religious Knives are a gloomy quartet, originally founded by Maya Miller and Michael Bernstein in New York City. ‘The Door’ is the band’s second full-length album, and is produced by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. The album is possibly intended to be atmospheric and incredibly cool, but those who dislike static and repetition could be forgiven for finding it slightly tedious. An impenetrably dense texture sees droning bass and guitars positioned underneath monotone vocals throughout the album, without respite. ‘On a Drive’ is a sparse seven-minute long dirge, while ‘Major Score’ is a somewhat easier listen. ‘Decisions are Made’ is a monotonous duet, following a similar dark pattern to the rest of the album.

Casual listeners may not find much here, but those who like their art-rock to be purposefully obscure and difficult could possibly gain something from this album.

Yasmin Prebble

 

Computer Club – Before the Walls Came Down (Split Records)

‘Before the Walls Came Down’ was written and recorded in an intense nine-day session by Birmingham quartet Computer Club. Sounding similar to the Editors with more than a hint of 80s new wave, ‘Before the Walls Came Down’ is the band’s debut album. The album is packed full of memorable hooks and guitar riffs, but does not do a brilliant job of standing apart from other indie albums. ‘Some Kind of Love’ stands out from the rest of the songs on the album, but still sounds quite familiar. ‘Fragile Minds’ is slower, fragile and heartfelt, with a touch of electro and lots of reverb.

The album is tinged with sweeping guitar parts and some good ideas, but it occasionally seems as though the ideas have been spread a little too thinly across the entire album.

Yasmin Prebble

 

Jegsy Dodd & The Original Sinners - 'Loquacious Loquacious Loquacious' (Piffle)

I'm scratching my head here. Exactly when did the Blue Peter garden get vandalised? Excuse the giving the age away here but wasn't it in the late 80s? No way could Les Ferdinand have done it, as Jegsy and the Sinners are alleging here. Still, let's not allow the (unprovable) facts to get in the way of a gnarly slice of pub rock. Then I pick up the press release and all is slightly clearer. Jegsy Dodd is a former acloyte of notoriously warped Merseyside surrealists Half Man Half Biscuit, former Peel show faves and serious contenders for the 'Funniest Band From The Wirral Since The Fourmost' award. I knew it all the time, of course I did.

But comedy in music is a double edged sword, a two headed match, a whole new tin of worms awaiting audience appreciation, without which it merely sickens and expires. Jegsy and his band are far from amateurish but 'Last Night A DJ Shaved My Wife' is a very old joke indeed, and while the musical backing is up to Scissor Sisters levels of retrofunk, or even an unashamed proper disco covers band - there is more to 'Loquacious' than just provoking wry grins, isn't there? As the spoken lyricism slides towards bathos, Jegsy reveals his true gifts as a proper observational stand up performing writer, not just a club comic wringing the very last out of his 80s gag book. The next release from this sextet is probably a proper country album which contains nothing that even remotely resembles a joke in any shape or form. And another thing: that isn't who I heard trampled Petra's grave, but would anyone believe me? I doubt it most sincerely folks ... (£50 and I'll give the game away entirely)

Jon Gordon

 

Murcof - The Versailles Sessions (The Leaf Label)

Each summer, the Chateau de Versailles stages an event known as 'Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes', which is apparently a large scale light show with added musical accompaniment. 2007's event featured Murcofs compositions as backing to the luminosity, and here is the complete soundtrack to the event. Now, a large scale and highly prestigious event such as this has to function on more than one level. It's a site-specific art installation and the music/soundtrack isn't neccessarily the main focus of the event. So I approached this CD with, not exactly trepidation, but a realisation that I was only going to get half the picture, possibly less.

Murcof has an impressive list of credits that include similar live shows across europe, the Montreaux jazz festival and creating live sounddtracks for films (such as Metropolis). His aim on this occasion is/was to meld a fusion of modern electronics and 17th century baroque, performed on vintage instruments. Certainly, no-one can accuse Murcof of setting his sights too low. But as you might expect, this makes for an only partially successful listening experience. The electronics dominate the 50 or so minutes of sound, with lote of low ferquency humming and clanking, where an entirely electronic composition might present fewer obstacles for listeners such as myself, who can happily sit through an evening of actual 17th century baroque performed on chamber instruments without any relaince on backline to make things sound a lolt more experimental than perhaps they
actually are. The harpsichord that opens the third section of the album is a refreshing moment of clarity amidst the nervous sounding bleeps and hisses, but all to quickly gives way to a passage that resembles the sound of a gigantic lobster boiling. 'Death Of A Forest' mixes operatic vocals and atmospherics reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, and the remainder of the album is at least listenable, but it must've been so much more effective on the night.

Jon Gordon

 

DVD Review: Arctic Monkeys Live At The Apollo

Ah, the tour film. What better way to document the long hard slog of entertaining thousands than by uploading a grainy clip on YouTube? You can tell when a band’s truly made it – the cameramen are hired, the soundman is replaced by a person that actually has the gift of hearing and the bass player gets out the Rimmel compact for the encore.

There is one other reason for making the videoed gig, and that’s when a tour sells out in microseconds and leaves a lot of fans metaphorically standing out in the cold. Arctic Monkeys are in just such a position, being phenomenally popular yet not quite willing to take the step up into arena rock and all its attendant follies. And so it is that the last night of their 2007 world tour has been recorded for posterity and released for our Christmas edification.

The film, directed by comic meteor Richard Ayoade, is your basic band play a gig at the Manchester Apollo and get filmed while doing it thing. Arctic Monkeys, a band that made it big by shunning pretension and celebrating the mundane, have seen to it that their televisual record gets it only half right.

Opener ‘Brianstorm,’ such a thunderous stompalong, suffers from appalling sound and so despite being our introduction to the concert, sets the tone for the entire evening. The lack of care taken by the soundmen at the Apollo seems to affect the band and their evening turns from promising to workmanlike almost from the start. There is a strong opening selection of songs and despite the sound improving by the time ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ pokes the audience into life, the disease is terminal.

Frontman Alex Turner senses this early on, telling those on the balcony that they look miserable, and resorting to a private joke by kidding the audience that they’re being broadcast live in Berlin only serves to give a backdrop of moronic England chants to the next tune. Throughout, the band look bored and despondent, knowing they’ve yet again had to face an audience composed largely of fashionistas and scallies. Contrast this with their bewitching performance at Glastonbury in 2007, where the audience were free to wander at will and the crowd were composed of thousands of people that actually made an effort to see them. Following that, no wonder they’re turgid.

The setlist is fairly balanced between the debut album and the more recent ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ but predictably, the songs that get the loudest cheers are the singles and older ones. Turner, who is now in love with ‘sixties lounge crooners and a better songwriter for it, seems willing to keep on putting the tunes out there but in contrast to the Monkey’s later material the songs from the debut album now seem naïve rather than electrifying. As a document of their career so far, their output seems worryingly weak.

And of course, this dichotomy has spread to the film itself, which has pretensions of being arty but is average and pedestrian. Ayoade, who has directed Monkeys videos in the past, makes some neat use of the split-screen and some of the cinematography is nicely used, but there are no attempts at other effects, backstage material, use of other types of film or even effective audience shots. It illustrates just who this disc is aimed at – people who have heard the Monkeys and want to see them live, rather than fans willing to follow the band into more experimental areas.

What we would rather have seen, in essence, is Arctic Monkeys at one of their sweaty early gigs, but with their whole output. The chance to catch an exciting and catchy young group in a naturalistic setting might have been something to watch again and again (see The Clash in ‘Rude Boy’ for proof) but all we have is a band too big for clubs but not big enough for a mid-sized venue on this evidence. I’ve no doubt they can fill arenas with their sound, but it’s obvious they don’t have the confidence in their material they displayed at Glastonbury. More importantly, it doesn’t seem fun.

So who do we look to pin the blame on for such a lacklustre effort? It’s difficult to judge how successful this was as a gig without actually being there, but we can infer a few things. If the gig was absolutely bloody spectacular, it wasn’t filmed very well. If the audience really was that quiet, we might blame it on fairweather fans. If the band really was that pedestrian, we might blame it on their desire after a long tour. Most likely it’s a combination of the three.

Oh, for a DVD of that Glastonbury gig. On this evidence, it’s more of a requiem for the Monkeys than a statement of intent. Alex Turner is already turning his back on the music that made him famous, and good luck to him, but this disc just shows that Arctic Monkeys need to carefully plan their next moves in order to survive past album three. It would be a shame if such an ordinary film was the only record of their career peak so far.

Chris Stanley

 

Ann Scott – We’re Smiling (Raghouse Records)

This is the third album from Ann Scott, who’s been nominated for awards, but has still ‘slipped through the net’. Hmm.

Ann Scott’s voice lends itself well to the world-weary woman stories that she pens, accompanied by a multi-layered accompaniment that is a times surprisingly complex. There’s an air of sadness and longing throughout We’re Smiling, and for an 11 track album it can get a bit heavy going.

However, there are a few interesting bits and pieces that hint there’s more going on in this album that one might suspect. The drum machine riffs towards the end of Feather For Feather nods more in the direction of PJ Harvey or Bjork, as do the cross rhythms on Dawn At The Parlour. Ann Scott can also do stripped down, She : Jubilee is a haunting track, with just vocals and tiny flourishes of guitar and drums.

Towards the end of the album though, it seems Ann Scott has pulled all the rabbits out of her hat, and a sense of boring déjà vu sets in. 100 Dances, 1,000 Stars looks set to head into a more rock inspired direction in the chorus, but returns to familiar territory in the verses. There’re some excellent and promising ideas here, but not quite enough to fill an entire album.
www.myspace.com/annscottmusic

Catriona Boyle

 

Je Suis Animal – Self Taught Magic From a Book (Angular Records)

When it comes to cute things, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. By all means, put the sunglasses on the dog. But for goodness sake, don’t put the hat on as well. Well Je Suis Animal have put the whole damn wardrobe on the dog and then bundled it into a Paris Hilton dog carrier handbag with this album.

There’s been an influx of cutesy, twee indie pop recently, some hits, and some definite misses. The hits, ie Tilly and the Wall, Gregory and the Hawk, succeed because they’re not trying to be cute or twee at all, but they still are, and therein lies the beauty.

Je Suis Animal are most definitely trying, and as a result we’re ticking boxes rather than making music. There’s girl vocal harmonies, galloping drums, tambourines, jingle bells and lyrics about milkshakes. And a press release that describes the recording process that involved living on nothing but tea and gingerbread for 7 days. Home made gingerbread, I’m sure.

There’s no heart to this music- everything is polished and then dusted with glitter. Good To Me, halfway through the album attempts something a little edgier by picking up the pace, but with ‘I love you’ being the only lyrical content, it does little to boost things.

Calling a band overly cute is hardly the worst insult in the book, but there’s a sense that they’ve tried just a bit too hard to nail the concept, smothering what could’ve been a far more edgy, interesting album.
www.jesuisanimal.com

Catriona Boyle

 

Jesse Malin - Mercury Retrograde

When your fourth and fifth solo albums are a covers album and a live album respectively you would normally start to worry about the original output of the artist drying up, but anyone who has seen Jesse Malin live can testify to two clear observations: one, he loves performing covers, and two, he loves performing live. On Jesse's first live album Mercury Retrograge, recorded in his home of New York in November 2007, the most straightforward production decision taken was without question to keep in the lengthy monologues that link the songs together. It’s one of the most charming aspects of seeing Jesse live, and as with fellow New Yorker Ed Hamell, Jesse is one of a selective group of contemporary singer-songwriters who are also natural storytellers. The often amusing digressions dip less into Jesse’s life in New York for this show and are instead thematically linked to Jesse’s reasoning behind the recording of the album itself. From the introduction to the homesick lament of Hotel Columbia, Jesse's anecdotes takes us via London, California, and Germany, before bringing us back to New York with set-closer Xmas. In between Jesse applauds the religion of the record buying and gig-going faithful and shows his age by bemoaning the majority who choose today to get most of their music from the internet (the irony that Mercury Retrograde was released, limited CD release aside, as a download-only album was obviously not apparent to Jesse at the time). The set list comprises of stripped down, mostly acoustic versions of songs lifted from Jesse’s first three studio albums (though surprisingly ignoring some of his most popular numbers – no Queen of the Underground or Mona Lisa), but the album is defined by the inclusion of a cover of the CSNY song Helpless. Jesse has always possessed a lonesome tenor comparable to Neil Young, but has yet to utilise it to full effect on an all-out acoustic record. Anyone who has been pining for that album may be satisfied with Mercury Retrograde for the time being. Just don’t tell Jesse if you downloaded it.

Stephen Jessep

 

Dokkemand - Hons!

Dokkemand, AKA, Marius Grotterud Egenes, hails from Oslo, Norway and has collaborated with others as Dokkemand since 2005. This is his debut full-length, and he has an impressive roster of guest vocalists: Alison Shaw of Cranes, Kate Havnevik, Lars Wiik, Laura Becerra of Carrie, and Sarah Hellstrom of Lost Room.

In the press release for Marius’s album, he talks about a game that his parents played in the 1950s that involved small plastic rings, where players tried to win the most rings by flicking them and hitting an opponent’s rings. This game, where the winner ends up with long chains of plastic rings, is symbolized in audio form on this album as Marius restlessly configures brief mini-suites of concatenating sounds, a succession of intricate notes that link with one another, either in aural tone or type of notes.

The electronics interplay is complex, layered, and animated, constantly shifting and bristling densely with crisply pattering noises of all sorts, from fuzzy static and glitches to warped bends and metallic skittering, from icy, chiming tinkling to the zesty zing of arcade sounds. Some of the vocal segments are treated as part and parcel of the sonic collage, becoming one in a multitude of twigs that are woven into the texture of the bird’s nest, so to speak.

Starter track “Kanaria” features bright keyboard notes, fuzzy, low-end rumble, delicate glass crackles, and the shimmer of hit cymbals, before smoothly transitioning into flowing, Spanish-tinged guitar strum, lightly thumping beat, and the manipulated vocals of Lars Wiik echoing the guitar line. Lars also sing-talks on the next song, “Lapp”, amid low, fat bass notes, clacking, skittering, knob-twiddling sounds, and mournful, wavering flute-like notes.

Alison Shaw of Cranes sing-talks in a clear, but subdued tone on “Undulat” along with the same growling bass underpinning that is found on the previous songs. A peppering of glitches and clacks, guitar notes, and warped noises contrast against Ali’s contemplative lyrics of “I think I’ll ask the stars / if they could shine tonight.” and calm, cool-tone piano notes.

On “Lupe” Kate Havnevik sings in a clear, hushed tone, with a familiar backing of skittering clicks and low bass notes, telling the story of a girl named Violet, “…a fallen star… / Fallen from the sky… / This is not a safe place to be.”, as strummed guitar, electronic blips and pings, and reverberating, organ-like notes fill out the sound. Sarah Hellstrom of Lost Room sings on “Klokka Er 76”, with tranquil hits of xylophone notes, the low rumble of bass, and high register recorder notes. Her vocals are fleeting, sweet and sighing, and backed by an angelic, wordless chorus.

Laura Becerra of Carrie sing-talks in an aching, drawn out tone on “Telefom”, as a smattering of light piano notes, twittering birds, and electronic bleeps and bloops flit around her vocals. Closer “Slapp” tests the listener’s aural capacity with a high pitched, distorted noise that builds up and fades against placid organ notes and battling “Star Wars”-like electronics.

Jen Stratosphere Fanzine
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine/

 

Hellset Orchestra – The Carrousel Awaits (Wicked Wicked Bird)

Well, hats for trying something new guys, and sticking to it, because this is the second album from theatre-rock merchants Hellset Orchestra.

It’s a shame Halloween has just been and gone, because this would be the perfect soundtrack for creating your very own haunted house. This album certainly needs some kind of context anyway, as it’s not one you can put on round the house, in the car, anywhere normal people might be listening.

The Carrousel Awaits is quite frankly bloody terrifying. There’s piano stabbings, weird fairground man vocals, and ridiculously melodramatic. I’m pretty sure somewhere out there there’s a play that’s just dying to be transformed into a musical, and this album houses all the missing songs. In terms of actually taking this seriously though, well, I’m sure they never expected to be anyway.
www.hellsetorchestra.co.uk

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Sneaky Sound System – Mixes and Remixes

Released as an iTunes-only exclusive this pre-‘proper’ album release is bookended by ‘Pictures’ and recent single ‘UFO’. The Aussie threesome collect together a substantial collection of remixes of, thank fuck, different tracks – as oppose to having to put up with ten tracks all remixing the same original. This gives the collection a ‘real album’ sense. The remixes also are remixes of as yet unreleased material, so will not only treat fans to some fun, house-y dance tracks to put on towards the end of a night out but also a feel of what the up coming album will be like, and it sounds promising.

Sounding oddly like Abba (I joke not) in places, disco flavours mix with the hottest sounds on the nu-dance revival mix desk. You could shrug it off as a pastiche of seventies glam dance chic, and a unnecessary marketing trick of a release; yet remixes by artists such as Van She show that this not only showcases Sneaky, but also the remixers. Another newbie, ‘I just don’t want to be Loved’, sneaks into the mix almost exactly in the middle of the record, and sounds much more like a remix than some of the others on here, falling a bit flat compared to the UFO remix which precedes it.

If you’re on a budget make sure to download the Van She remix – otherwise get the whole thing on rotation to your Pod – that is if nu-disco sounds like a genre which entices you. A marmite record, if ever there was one.

Nick Burman

 

The Monocult - 'Maybe We Should' (Pink Liquid)

The Monocult are a 9-piece ensemble based around Tyneside, and what the Monocult are into is noir-ish ballads built around plucked double bass and assorted keyboard and jazz-type drum parts, and as the Monocult are all accomplished musicians there are some real moments of near if not actual virtuosity across the eleven tracks that make up 'Maybe We Should'.

They sound a bit glum though. Really, this is a perfectly decent folk album which got out of a hand a bit as mates of mates were drafted in to add extra guitar,keybopard.brass and drum tracks and the threads that hold the resulting jumble of styles together are a little worn after all the overdubbing that's gone on here, during which all the tunes either got lost or went home early. This is most obviously apparent on 'Higher Ground' which really requires a more effective melody to advance the Monocult's folk/jazz hybrid case effectively, and the second part of the track really does sound as if it sprang fully formed from the bowels of a 300 rhythm preset multitrack keyboard. Yes, the musicianship is mostly highly competent but it all sounds a little miserable, bordering on desperate. Even Nick Cave knows to add a touch of wryness to his most angst-ridden epics. Maybe the Monocult shouldn't, after all.
www.myspace.com/themonocult

Jon Gordon