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  albums - december 2008


Catherine MacLellan - Church Bell Blues (True North)

Canadian singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan instils her vocals on Church Bell Blues, her second album, with such sleepy, dulcet tones and to such sparse arrangements that you half believe she recorded the whole record before breakfast. As she sings “I've been hopping in and out of bed with friends and lovers” on aptly titled opener Dreams Dissolve, you get the impression she’s near to climbing back in and nodding off. Catherine MacLellan has garnered comparisons with compatriot Kathleen Edwards, and vocally the two are comparable, but those perhaps turned off by Edwards' more recent commercial excursions may be swayed by the stripped down alternative on offer here. The music itself never strays too near to either the edgier or more traditional sub-genres - this is acoustic music that is neither outright folk nor country - and as such Church Bell Blues is unlikely to satisfy those who have spent the last five years wondering when Gillian Welch is going to release a new album, but despite the non-offensive coffee shop arrangements there is much to enjoy here from the up-tempo jangle of Too Easy, the heart-string-wrenching starkness of There You Are, to the jazzy blues of the title track.

Stephen Jessep


A Silent Film – The City That Sleeps (Xtra Mile)

A group still considered a “hard rock band” whose singers influences lie in Bjork, Anthony and the Johnsons, and Radiohead, is an exciting prospect; I was looking forward to this album – and what a treat it turned out to be.

I think the term 'hard-rock' is possibly a little severe, unless it came from your grandmother's mouth. Bands with a similar sound? Not enough sadly. One that does spring to mind, Stateless, although minus the slight electronic edge. But still, it's not all guitar drum and bass with A Silent Film – the opening track, and their debut single features a vibraphone (or similar) to great effect. And at countless points throughout the album, Robert Stevenson's voice transforms into a breathy celestial instrument.

Another name-drop? Oh go on then. They're Eskimo Joe on speed.

This album is, in short, flawless. A rare gem in the modern market. In song-writing ability, general musical talent, and recording quality – A Silent Film have excelled themselves. The only problem now, is a successful follow up album. But when the standards are set this high, they'll need a miracle.

I haven't enjoyed an album this much in a long time – and if you're just sat at home waiting for Radiohead to release another album – this is a worthy substitute. Obviously, if you're into hard-hitting nu-rave head-bangers, or men shouting about guns bitches and bling, then this will make you want to leave the room; but for beautiful, masterful, and wonderful alternative rock at its best, look no further that The City That Sleeps.

Thom Curtis


Sally Garozzo – Earth Meet Heaven (Eight Records)

A note to people who write press releases – don’t compare your artist to cake. Ever. Particularly a ‘bitter sweet chocolate cake with orange surprise’. Not only do I now really want to go and buy a cake instead of listening to this album, but there’s just no way it’s going to live up to a cake comparison like that.

So with that out of the way, I can categorically say that this album is not as good as a chocolate and orange cake. It’s not even as good as a Victoria Sponge. On the cake rating system, I’d say we’re around a flapjack.

Extra points for the fusion genre – drum and bass-y drum loops complete with songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical. Unfortunately the novelty wears off quicker than a Christmas cracker and the vocals aren’t strong enough to carry this entire album.

The electronic backing seems to be the main theme of the album, meaning it’s reused in every song. Sadly we’re slipping further down the DJ Sammy route rather than Massive Attack with over sincere vocals and nothing of note happening in the background.

I’m off to buy to cake, I’d suggest you do the same rather than invest in this.

Catriona Boyle


Ivor Game – Wake Up and Sing (Self-released)

Ivor Game wrote Tasty a lovely polite letter about his new album, so I feel it’s only appropriate that my review comes via the same medium.

Dear Ivor,

Thank you very much for your lovely letter, and your new album, Wake Up and Sing. I very much enjoyed the homely, uncomplicated songs, and gentle acoustic sounds. You seem to come from a past generation of songwriters in the way you sing about simple things in a simple way, with no pretensions or airs and graces.

I particularly enjoyed I Can’t Keep Away, and I’m sure, armed with this short but sweet romantic ditty you’ll have the girls falling at your feet.

I found Wake Up and Sing to be sort of like a cup of tea in the afternoon, a little break from the hustle and bustle to enjoy something ever dependable, reliable, and mood enhancing.



Catriona Boyle


Alice Russell – Pot of Gold (Little Poppet)

Alice Russell is Amy Winehouse without the grit, Duffy without the innocence and Adele without the soul. Essentially another female singer/songwriter attempting to subvert the pop princess stereotype by having a bit of a soul angle. She’s not the worst of the current crop, but she’s not bothering those at the top either.

These tracks certainly have some balls to them, but at the same time suffer from lazy instrumentation. Alice Russell’s voice would sound far better with a full big band as opposed to the stripped back miniscule horn section and bass she’s accompanied by on most tracks. She’s got a big voice, but at times it sounds a little harsh with nothing behind it.

Two Steps is probably the pinnacle, with a lovely string section adding effortless class to this post-heartbreak anthem that sounds straight out of bygone era. Track five is a cover of Gnarls Berkley’s Crazy, and whilst it’s of course it’s not as bad as The Kooks version, the rolling drums and tremolo strings that are merely hinted at need to be a full scale production to truly pull off the melodramatic feel it’s aiming for.

All in all it’s certainly got potential, and perhaps the full album will divulge more brilliance to start worrying Duffy et al.

Catriona Boyle


Various: 'A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 4' - (Cherryade)

Every year since 2005, the Cherryade label has compiled its very own christmas album, and this is the first such release to find its way down my chimney. It contains 18 tracks and only two of the bands featured are already known to me. So what's it really all about then?

Well, Fever Fever turn out an edgy slice of goth guitar which contains added sleigh bells, this is entitled 'Hallelujah Carol' and had a similar effect to that of my finding a half hidden, yellowed picture of Siouxsie Sioux wearing a shiny santa outfit from some TOTP crimbo special, and a wry grin it brought to my cynical features, I can tell you. The Very Most are properly up for the festivities with their 'Christmas Came November 4', a classy sounding pop number which has lots of chimes and features the word 'christmas' a lot. Hotpants Romance are just being silly though. Imagine the Ramones aged about 12, and then forward to next track, Little My's 'Sad Sad Christmas', a classy sounding pop number which has lots of chimes and features the word 'christmas' a lot. The Lovely Eggs are a bit like Yoko Ono fronting the original Velvets lineup (that cool, yeah) but the most authentically seasonal track thrack is possibly the Gresham Flyers' 'Perfect Christmas Snow' which sounds a bit like the song Glasvegas want to write. And here come the Bobby McGees! Hurrah! 'Santa De La Crux' is an endearingly dotty trawl through some of the more obscure festive traditions of both here and abroad, described to the McGee's trademark banjo and recorder backing and it is marvellous (the cheque's in the post Jimmy)

But even this work of actual near-genius is eclipsed by The Fountains' 'Shout For Trout (At Christmas Dinner)' which is an electronic mess up worthy of early Cabs and also has some incredibly dumb lyrics. Wherever I'm spending christmas this year, it isn't anywhere near The Fountain. Listen from a distance though, and you will hear the kind of surreal inspiration that everyone thought acid house had killed off entirely - so stick that in your pipe and call a plumber, Mr. boring corporate industry 'mogul'. Cherryade records are rightly proud of their roster and the mixture of retro punk, electronica, stylish pop and unclassifiable eccentricity deserves a much wider audience than it will probably recieve. 'Look to the skies for spaceman Santa', sing Pocket Gods. Let's everybody do that now.

Jon Gordon


The Charade - 'Keeping Up Apearances' (Skipping Stones)

There is a phrase that crops up every now and again, in reviews of albums such as this one, a phrase that, for me, always evokes the sounds and images of some half-forgotten moment of actual pop genius. 'A Flawless Pop Gem, Polished To Perfection' is the phrase, and it's my turn to use it while reviewing 'Keeping Up Appearances'.

The cover art is a fairly shameless attempt at cornering a part of the stuill burgeoning retropop marlet, adorned as it is with fuzzy pictures of cars with tailfins, shiny designer furniture and girls who look like Twiggy and Jackie O. What this says is what albums like this often say : the 1960s were the coolest time ever, we had b/w TV, women were more attractive, everyone could sing like Astrid Gilberto and electric guitars weren't invented. As for the music itself, the emphasis is, if not entirely lo-fi, then quite definitley M.O.R, and (this is important) entirely lacking in the cynicism that so often undercuts so many similar albums. The Charades are refreshingly direct, both musically and lyrically. Listen to 2nd track 'The World Is Going Under' and appreciate the lightness of touch that brings the song jauntily to life, never mind that 'it's raining again but the shadows remain'. Nothing's getting under the Charade's collective skin. 'Springtime Fever' shares this air of relentless optimism and derives quite an amount of depth from a relatively simplistic guitar/piano arrangement.

Other tracks, such as 'Ballad Of Uneasy Rider' highlight the Charades' ability to tackle even darker subject matter - 'yesterday she dumped me / and I almost lost my job' - without dropping the uptempo minimalism, and turn even the least appealing prospect into a cheerful, summery pop anthem. Really, and I know one or two of you reading this are slightly too sophisticated to take comment such as this entirely seriously, 'Keeping Up Appearances' really dows merit its description as a flawless pop gem, polished to perfection. There, I've said it again.

Jon Gordon


The Irrepressibles - From the Circus to the Sea

The Irrepressibles, since they began in 2002, have persistently created a mix of the classical ensemble, couture fashion and experimentation. Performing at the Hackney Empire, The Roundhouse and the Tate Britain among other well-respected venues, they have not failed to craft a novel and justly melodramatic exhibition. Shaped by Jamie McDermott, a singer and songwriter “with an inhuman vocal range”, and backed by a ten piece Orchestra, The Irrepressibles ‘From the Circus to the Sea’, truly is an extraordinary listen.

An incredibly distinctive experience begins with a short woodwind prologue to the package; beginning with mesmerising flute choruses, how could anyone not be intrigued? The preliminary music leaves only the rest to the imagination as McDermott launches into ‘Splish Splash Sploo’- the mind's eye at this point could not have assumed what is to follow. A tender pluck of the strings and a gentle nod of a song dramatises itself into breathtaking theatricality; severe strings and high-pitched operatic noises bleed force which glide back and forth between the fanatical and the serene.

Following an additional sweet interlude laden with soothing clarinet and flute choirs is ‘The Tide’. Ditching the psychotic leaps of ‘Splish Splash Sploo’, McDermott presents a condition of lament, misery and wonder; a story begins to unravel both verbally and emotionally. ‘The Shirt’ adopts the same sense of grief vocally but in air the track unravels a tone of epiphany and acceptance.

Closing the saga, refuge is achieved with another orchestral instrumental which lacks finality- the story may remain unfinished yet the listener unquestionably desires more. Marvellously produced, the CD is an epic rather than a series of individual tales.

‘From the Circus to the Sea’ is a CD/DVD package that takes musical theatre to an entirely new level. It is not Art, Rock, Opera or Andrew Lloyd Webber; it is a completely sophisticated and outstanding blend of all.

Rebecca Lambert


The John Henrys – ‘Sweet As the Grain’ (9LB Records / True North Records)

The ‘John Henry’ of the American folklore tradition was an archetypal, giant of a man and heroic symbol of the labouring classes, originating from sometime around the end of the 19th Century, at a time when increasing mechanization began to impact upon traditional blue-collar, manual workers and their communities. His story has been featured in hundreds of songs by everyone from old bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi John Hurt, all the way to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on their last album, ‘Dig Lazarus Dig’.

While the John Henrys, from Ottawa, Ontario, may not be as traditional as their legendary namesake, the songs on ‘Sweet As the Grain’ are rooted firmly in the story-telling traditions of Country-Rock, blended with the occasional flavors of 60’s garage, surf guitar, rhythm & blues, and bluegrass. They clearly wear their influences proudly and prominently on their sleeves; Gram Parsons, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, Neil Young, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Waylon Jennings, hell, I can even hear a resonances of the 13th Floor Elevators, Thin White Rope and Little Feat in their somewhere.

Having played together since 2003, this is their second, self-produced album, but the first international release, and a mighty fine piece of work it is for a band that is still fairly young, both in terms of age and how long they’ve been playing together. There’s not a duff track on the album, and some absolute crackers. From the fine lap steel slide guitar of the opening, title track, through the big, tremolo guitar sounds of ‘Lost In the Canyon’, the bluegrass banjo and mandolin sing-along of ‘Ain’t Gonna Drink No More’, the sweet harmonies, guitar jangle and calliope organ of ‘Truth Be Told’, this is ‘big sky’, road trip music’. Ideally, I wish I was listening to it on the car stereo, riding shotgun in the passenger seat of my mate Chris’ flatbed Ford pickup, driving across the Texas mesa on some endless road stretching in a straight line all the way to the horizon.

Nevertheless, these guys play so well, it still sounds grand with a mug of Oxo and a round of marmite on toast on a chilly December morning in West Yorkshire. Now, where did I stash my cowboy boots?

Bill Howe


Gentleman Caller - "Gentleman Caller Vs. The Elephant" (MFT Records)

It's hard to be sure exactly what the "elephant" in singer and songwriter Kenny Childers' mind represents here, with so much ambiguity and wit stitched through every line of this marvellous LP. But there is no mistaking the quality musicianship on display throughout this follow-up to 2006's 'Until We Are Missing'.

Hailing from the US Mid-west, this well-staffed unit only betrays its geographical origins with an occasional dip into country-rock, such as 'Flaming Arrows', which could be a fine anthem if the track was knocked up a couple of bpm, and the recorded-in-my-basement-in-10-minutes folksy closer 'Dead Language' that is still worth two minutes of your time for the heartbreakingly direct lyrics alone.

Opening track 'The Locusts' sounds like a hybrid of the Rolling Stones and B-52s performing a clap-along cousin to the former's "It's Only Rock And Roll But I Like It". Listen as Childers' voice soars and rattles towards the high-end, if you're not too busy stomping your feet already. The similarly rousing 'Dress For Yourself' cheerfully morphs into a hypnotherapy CD after a couple of minutes: "Dress For Yourself. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Dress For Yourself. Boom. Boom. Boom..." - okay, we get it! Comparisons to Arcade Fire are inescapable in places, not least during the marvellous, dense refrain to 'War Drum'. And when the massed ranks join in on backing vocals during 'Mood Ring', you might even be thinking of the Polyphonic Spree. Great fun.

Despite these rousing efforts, some of the best material on this remarkably consistent LP comes from the most desperate places. 'Lake Haunt (You've Still Got Me)' is a cry for help from a man who cannot escape his past, and it will send a shiver down your spine like something from a Jeff Buckley live album with its sparse drums, electric guitar arpeggios and soaring vocals. 'Tiger' then strips things back to the bare bones, with just simple riffs and delicate words. The jazz-tinged 'They Found Rita' is virtually whispered, as if playing any louder would wake the poor girl.

It is a joy to come across an album so accomplished, thoughtful and literally colourful (see the artwork on their MySpace page). Kenny Childers is certainly no amateur when it comes to writing and performing songs that have both bark and bite, and his charismatic voice adds a real sparkle to the fine efforts of his many players.

Chris McCague


Royston Vince - Out of the World

The terms “ambient” and “chill out” have become dirty words in music in recent years, summoning up the following rancid elements: Ibiza and other destinations decimated by the tourist industry; “exhausted” clubbers slumped in pools of their own bodily fluids after the excesses of the night before; the Ministry of Sound and all the crass, commercial dance music that their conveyor belt of musical excrement produces on a 24/7 basis.

However, there are islands of beauty in the sea of ambient twaddle. The Orb released a couple of great singles before taking too many strange substances and disappearing in a puff of ego. Orbital picked up the baton in the late nineties, but became increasingly commercial, finally jumping the shark by releasing about six different versions of Satan (their weakest single). Lemon Jelly emerged in the early noughties as a sort of ambient Chemical Brothers, but disappeared after a disappointing second album. Perhaps it’s time for ambient music to have a new star. Perhaps that star is Royston Vince.

New album Out of This World opens with Rain Has Fallen, a delicate track of piano, tremolo guitar and strings. If you had a bad day at work, missed the bus then got splashed by a 4x4 driver going too fast through a puddle, stick this track on. It’s like a liquid hug. I guarantee it will make you feel better.

The Art of Conversation is the sort of music Mike Oldfield would be writing if he hadn’t run out of ideas twenty five years ago. The last time synths were placed so unashamedly at the centre of the song, Jean Michel- Jarre was playing his laser harp and Vangelis was disappearing under a sea of keyboard stands.

Title track Out of this World gives a nod to Orbital with its breakbeats, strings and bleeps. You Didn’t Call is a bit of a shock when it hits – a simple, piano led tune supported by strings with chords that take the listener in an unusual series of directions.

Because of You is really a chance for an extended guitar solo, but fans of Pink Floyd should be happy here. The last two tracks feel unnecessary and seem to be reflecting themes from earlier tracks, so a little editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. Production on the album is a little mushy, and vocals particularly could do with sharpening up. But these are minor criticisms of what is, overall, a wonderfully realised and coherent album from a talented musician.

Chris Moffatt


Various: Be True To Your School - A Fortunapop Compilation (Fortuna Pop)

Running to 25 tracks, this is a chance to reminisce over some quality Lamacq-era indie. The best tunes here could hold their own against anything R**** T**** ( or insert indie label of your choice) could throw at them. At worst (sorry Sodastream) theres the sort of stuff Stuart Murdoch would write over his lunch break, then discard for sounding a bit too wet. But its the tracks which choose not to go down the expected jangly route which are some of the most interesting cuts here. For such a quintessentially indie label, Fortuna' have actually got a pretty eclectic roster. I certainly wasn't expecting to hear anything as funky as the Cannonball Jane track, or the bleak Country of 'Rob a Bank' by the Butterflies of Love (whose album I'm going to have to go and bloody buy now). Top marks to the Would be goods' spot on Nico impression and to 'You're the Prettiest thing' by the Chemistry experiement, which is just the sound of pure uninhibited glee. This is the point where I should probably say 'here’s to the next 13 years' or something to that effect. And why not, as long as fey, insecure boys and louche, intense girls walk the earth - we're going to need labels like this.

Andy Glynn


The Interiors - Delays are Dangerous

Not everything has to be complicated. Everything trick the Interiors pull here is straight out the 'Punk for Dummys' handbook, but they pull it off with so much enthusiasm and energy that they're almost allowed a free pass. This is a band with a seemingly limitless supply of pithy lyrics and shouty choruses and most of the 16 tracks here barely last past the 2-minute mark. The sadly-departed Be Your Own Pet would be a pretty close comparison. 'Shes in Japan' is a Vapors-tastic little opener and 'Raskolinov' is probably the catchiest song you're going hear in a long while that quotes Dostoevsky. They're a one-gear band, but I don't think they ever intended to be anything else. Fun.

Andy Glynn


Buen Chico - Our Love's Enormous

Its barely been a year since their debut, 'Right to Rearrange' came out, so its a nice surprise to find Buen Chico have already got a second album cooling on the windowsill. You can barely walk down the street these days without tripping over a jangly indie band, but its the sheer gusto they attack each song with which puts them among the top of that particular pile. 'This Party' sets their stall out pretty succinctly, a call to arms about putting love above all things, with a memorable chorus attached for good measure. Sophomore albums are difficult things. You don't want to repeat yourself, but you don't want to abandon the style that got you there in the first place. Our Love's Enormous just about gets the balance right, mostly sticking to the same formula as the debut but expanding the songwriting to try a few new things, like acapella ('Theres no Machine'), Black Francis style thrashes ('Rag and Bone Man') and the gorgeus, slow-burning closer, 'Just so Long as theres a Spark'. There seems to be quite a strong anti-corporate message running through the album, but mercifully it never veers into Manics-style soap box ranting. 'Tell 'em' is one of those effortlessly hooky songs that could have easily been written in 1958 as 2008 and might just be the best two and a half minutes they've ever put out. Its not a flawless album, there are definitely a few weaker moments towards the end; but if they can keep knocking records like this out at the current rate, then we're going to have to start looking for bigger adjectives than 'enormous'.

Andy Glynn