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  albums - february 2009

   
 

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - 'Beware' (Drag City)

You recognise the name. Ever since 'I See A Darkness' brought Will Oldham to UK attentions in 2000 or thereabouts, his alter ego Bonnie 'Prince' Billy has been fumbling around in the creakier backwoods of Americana, plotting whatever it is they plot in those rundown post-industrial corners of the Appalachians. And 'Beware' is, to quote the press release, 'his most ambitious album to date'. There's a wealth of talented musicians at work here, BPB's own backing band and no less than 10 named guest performers, including former Mekon Jon Langford, and the palpable air of a career defining moment for both Mr Oldham and those of his circle. So is this the minor classic of modern American folk that we've been primed to expect? No, it isn't.

The one very obvious flaw in the entire setup is Bonnie 'Prince' Billy himself, whose vocals and lyrics simply don't match up to the either the efforts of his backing band or the albums production. The song titles - things like 'Beware Your Only Friend', 'You Are Lost', and (forget it) 'Death Final' resemble more the monosyllabic utterings of some hockey mask wearing horror villain than one of the more prominent alt.country performers of his generation, and one whose hoarse mumblings had me reaching for the FF and then the off buttons sooner than I expected. Essentially, 'Beware' doesn't work as it was planned to and the album won't win Bonnie 'Prince' Billy any new converts, in fact it might also lose him some older ones.

Jon Gordon

 

The Long Lost - (Ninja Tune)

Alfred and Laura Darlington met at high school, in Santa Monica, where they played in their school orchestra and afterwards in various bands until 1994, when they broke up as a partnership. They met again in 1998 and haven't been apart since, and a decade later here are the results of their renewed association and actual marriage.

What that sounds like is a mixture of intricate jazz based rhythms including assorted keyboard and tuned percussion interjections, string and brass sections, some intriguingly timed guitar from Alfred, and Laura Darlington's wistful yet subtly textured vocal. Laura cites Nico as an influence although her voice almost instantly had me recalling Astrid Gilberto in tone if not quite in delivery, and the double tracking of her voice on tracks such as 'Overmuch really shows her abilities to their best effect, while there's seemingly no end to the variety of backing instrumentation the Darlingtons bring to their basic guitar/vocal format.

Now this isn't exactly a criticism, more of a question. The Long Lost present themselves as a duo but there are definitely more than two musicians involved here. Or are there? Alfred and Laura are both producers as well as performers, according to the press release. Whatever went into the recording of The Long Lost, the results are a gently teasing and quirkily inventive song collection that is guaranteed to find a highly appreciative audience.
www.myspace.com/findthelonglost

Jon Gordon

 

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' is the album where they do 'what they've been threatening'. What is that, exactly? Simple transitions in song structure or in synth-plundering doesn't tend to propel the Great indie rock band into the Magnificent - yet M.P.P. is Animal Collective's highest platform yet, and by a long way. The people who liked 'em but hated everything since 'Feels', the people who thought 'Strawberry Jam' was as carefully produced as a flaccid turd, the people who just didn't love 'em yet are all wide awake. M.P.P. is the product - the nigh-on dang perfect accumulation of Animal Collective show favourites - and the latest, hugest Animal Collective dimension to date. What it does, what it does spot on - it engrosses you. You don't have to try to listen to M.P.P. It's a feast for the as yet unsated Anomal Collective fan. Which is pretty much most of us. It would be stupid, of course, to warn you of consuming the richest indie rock cake, to exercise restraint, to leave room for afters - yet you're going to burst at some point (I'm warning you).

'My Girls' does for 2009 what other songs did in 2008 and 2007; the proliferation of "I want" / "I just want"s on the album betray a shift into songs of familial bonds and bonding. Repetition, even song-sequencing - all the rhythmic devices transpire to make music to put you in a trance-like state. "Noone should call you a dreamer" nudges home the message - hey, Animal Collective are like the Beach Boys or something, the All Boy Summer Fun Band, no vicious. 'Summertime Clothes' comes in behind 'Also Frightened' as tremendously as anything off 'Strawberry Jam', and 'Taste' is reminiscent of the moment on HEALTH's debut when 'Glitter Pills' kicks in, "and I want to walk around with you, and I want to walk around with you", and so on - there are so many different ideas going on, layered even in individual songs. For instance, the jaw harp and the near-indecipherable lyrics of 'Lion In A Coma', my favourite song and the most immediately hypnotising song on the album. It is not easy, therefore, to define M.P.P. as an electronic or indie rock or 'freak folk' album - just as the next instalment of Animal Collective, returning to 'Feels' / pre-'Feels' territory in song structure (or destructive, more messy) yet carrying on from 'Strawberry Jam' too, minus to oft-terided 'tinny' production, shoving in highlights from along the way, more 'Runnin' songs, 'Person Pitch' dreaming, and the live vitality of 'Brother Sport'. It is an album which people will look back and trip up on, and very probably trip out on.

Phil Coales

 

The Telephones – The Bridge

Firstly, it’s lovely to read a hand-written press release. This personal factor seems to be reflected in the Telephone’s songs too. Entitled ‘The Bridge,’ the album has a view to describe bridging the gap between freedom and responsibility. The songs give snapshots of people, and tell of experiences with love, hope and the relationship with alcohol.

The Telephones play rock music peppered with harmonica and many guitar licks and riffs. The vocals in ‘Raisin’ the Blues’ are moving and uplifting, while ‘Atoms,’ ‘Sabina’ and ‘Take me Home’ are much more reflective. ‘Feel Alright’ seems to express simple happiness despite problems.

‘The Bridge’ is a little rough around the edges and some bits need a little more attention, but the album gives a good suggestion of what the Telephones are capable of.

Yasmin Prebble

 

School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms (Full Time Hobby/Ghostly International)

Half Asleep, with it’s blizzard synthscapes and girl vocals, has been bothered playlists for a while now, but don’t expect any other gems from them to be popping up soon, and it’s the rose amongst a very thorny album.

In it’s lighter moments, the album shows a brief bit of potential – Connjur is good, but only because it sounds a bit like Half Asleep. The rest of the tracks disappear into murky electronic quicksand.

For a debut, Alpinisms doesn’t have the throat-grabbing qualities it needs to, and instead slips down the way of ambience background music.
www.myspace.com/schoolofsevenbells

Catriona Boyle


 
 

Brakes – Touchdown (FatCat Records)

Touchdown is the third album from the rather brilliant Brakes, and is more of the same with their ultra catchy riffage, lashings of feedback, and college rock tunes.

Ok so they’re somewhat rough around the edges, but that’s part of what makes them so endearing – there’s no careful listening required to decipher poetic lyrics or hidden meanings, just stick it on and enjoy.

Worry About It Later is a care free ode to dancing your troubles away, in a jangly Belle and Sebastian way, followed immediately by Crush On You, featuring a Nirvana style drawl and a two chord wonder. Linear this is not.

Upbeat, unpretentious, good time music – the new Brakes album has to be what everyone needs right about now.
www.myspace.com/brakesband

Catriona Boyle


 

Ane Brun – Changing Of The Seasons (DetErMine)

You have to hand it to Scandanavia, they’re churning out a lot of good music at the moment. And blonde pixie Ane Brun is no exception.

Changing Of The Season is Ane Brun’s fifth album, but only the second one for us mere mortals in the UK. Her experience with writing and recording is clear, making this album sound accomplished, calculated and well thought out.

Ane Brun can most easily be compared with Martha Wainwright. Same vocals – child like but with a knowing, world-weary edge, lyrically – foolishly optimistic but with the wry deep down knowledge that things will go wrong, and musically – shuffling drums, a sprinkling of piano, and mainly acoustic.

Her cover of Cyndi Laupher’s True Colours is instantly recognisable as the one of the Sky ad over Christmas, and she brings a delicate, melancholic edge to the track.

Why this is only her second release over here is any one’s guess, but as a result we’re presented with a well-rounded, experienced singer who’s able to give a near perfect album.
www.myspace.com/anebrun

Catriona Boyle

 

Stórsveit Nix Noltes - Royal Family - Divorce (Fat Cat)

Stórsveit means 'big band' in Icelandic. Stórsveit Nix Noltes has, at the last count, eleven members, and they are making quite a large sound with their combination of folk and electric instruments and their choice of material - a selection of traditional east european folk songs, which are given the Nix Noltes (no relation to the veteran Hollywood actor apparently) treatment which involves fast and loud guitar and drums crossed with the erratic time signatures of Bulgarian/Balkan folk song.

What this actually sounds like is, well, unusual, so I need to use slightly more descriptive licence than usual here. Something like if Steeleye Span had Angus Young and Keith Moon in the lineup, or if Runrig took drugs (which they haven't ever) or if System Of A Down were actually from Armenia instead of Los Angeles. Big 'what if's' all round here. Really, 'Royal Family - Divorce' (and there aren't any indicators as to why SNN chose that for a title) is possibly the most original and certainly the liveliest Icelandic album I've heard since Bjork's 'Debut'.
http://www.myspace.com/storsveitnixnoltes

Jon Gordon

 
 

Various: Floored Memory .... Fading Location (Fat Cat)

This compilation contains the work of four seperate performers - Set Fire To Flames, Sylvain Chaveau, Max Richter, and Hauschka. All very different. Montreal's Set Fire involved members of Godspeed You Black Emperor and A Silver Mount Zion, and tracks from both their albums, released in 2001 and 2003 are included here. 'Steal Compass' is a mostly guitar based instrumental that builds gently, bringing in a string section and some softly reverberating cymbals around a sparse melodic thread, while 'When Sorrow Shoots Her Darts' is a similar but more assured composition that has a properly elegaic quality to it.

Sylvain Chaveau's minimal piano has an indentifiable antecedent in the work of Erik Satie, until the sudden addition of random taped noise breaks the reverie. Max Richter, meanwhile, is composing for strings with little regard for the demands of experimentation, his pieces are formal and repetitive, their melancholia sustained throughout. Perfect winter listening. In contrast, the most adventurous performer here is undeniably Hauschka, whose piano is rigged with a series of mufflers and woodblocks which create an acoustic synthesiser, quite a clever idea even for Dusseldorf. Hauschka's music is uptempo and discordant in very small doses, while the unpredictability of his timing gives each section an added impetus.

The accompanying press release goes into some detail regarding the assortment of projects these musicians have involved themselves with, much of it in soundtrack work, so don't worry too much if it all seems a bit obscure and elitist: you've probably already heard some of the music contained on this compilation already, somewhere or other.
http://fat-cat.co.uk/fatcat

Jon Gordon

 

Propagandhi - Supporting Caste

Supporting Caste is the fifth full length release by Propagandhi, and there are no signs of lack of originality. The Winnipeg punk rockers play a catchy form of punk rock rather than just being aggressive. Soft guitar melodies and sing-a-long choruses are the formula for Propangandhi’s music. For those unfamiliar with the band, Propangandhi’s music is very similar to bands like Rise Against - extremely fast paced and just natural talent. This is clearly shown as they have managed to put out 5 albums and not produce a bad note. Supporting Caste really shows the band’s talents as each song is unique, but has a very personal Propangandhi touch. Blistering guitars and blasting drums at a frantic pace is everything you want from a punk rock album, and Supporting Caste has it in abundance. Propangandhi may not have a large following yet, but once this album has been released and toured I’m sure they will gain many more fans from a younger punk generation.

Tim Birkbeck


 

Random Hand - Inhale/Exhale

The new age of Ska/Punk comes to you in the form of Random Hand. Combining Ska with a Hardcore background Random Hand produce a more aggressive form of Ska than people in the music scene will be used to hearing. It is clear that Random Hand have taken influence from Rancid as the Punk side of Ska/Punk seems to be the more dominant of the two. There is some loyalty to the Ska trademarks by using lots of brass instruments with an almost reggae beat, followed up with heavy guitars, powerful drums and passionate vocals. The album can be summed up in the song ‘British’ with gang vocals, brass and aggression all coming into play to help create a winning formula for Random Hand. When listening to this furious fast paced album, you just want to jump around to music which can only be described as fantastically written and pumped full of passion. Every song has its individual charm but all feature passionate lyrics which lead to very catchy choruses, adding to the appeal of this album. Inhale/Exhale is Random Hand’s second full length release and it is sure to rocket them into the limelight. There is a tour with Reel Big Fish this month and it would be no surprise if Random Hand stole the show. This album doesn’t have any one particular ‘stand out’ track as the whole album is just phenomenal and it is impossible to find fault with it. Even if you are not a fan of Ska music, then have a listen to this album and it will definitely change your mind.

Tim Birkbeck

 

Frightened Rabbit – Liver! Lung! Fr! (Fat Cat Records)

“Liver! Lung! Fr!” is a live album from Frightened Rabbit, featuring a majority of songs from “The Midnight Organ Fight” album.

If you're a Frightened Rabbit fan, then you're going to enjoy this undoubtedly. I caught them supporting Biffy Clyro at Brixton Academy recently, and really enjoyed myself. That said, in contrast, this live record is an acoustic set. If anything, this amplifies the emotion buried deep within each word, and there's a real sense of intimacy.

If however, you have no idea who Frightened Rabbit are, then it's about time you found out. A Scottish group who create powerful indie/alternative anthems, which really are just a joy to listen to. There's something mesmerising about Frightened Rabbit's songs, as the pacey verses contrast with a slow wailing vocal line, that oozes heart-ache and passion.

Highlight tracks are the opening “The Modern Leper” and the popular favourite “Keep Yourself Warm.”

In conclusion, this is an album for anyone and everyone. It's raw, passionate, and warming. Buy it.

Thom Curtis

 

Official Secrets Act – Understanding Electricity (One Little Indian)

This is a funny one. Critically acclaimed by just about everyone in the music industry worth listening to, you'd be expecting something pretty epic from this debut. However, it takes until the third track to find anything even close to the praise given. “The Girl From The BBC” is a dark indie number that really works well, compared to the rest of the
album which is wishy washy drivel or cheesy nonsense. That said, I foresee the album to be a grower, strangely.

I think my main issue lies in the bass. Just before final mix down, it's as if somebody has turned it right down. There are points in the album where the pace builds into a potentially immersive section, but the lack of low pitches leaves it all feeling very empty. This thin texture, despite numerous other synths and instruments playing, just makes it hard to get into.

The whole feel of the album, indie, slightly electro, eighties, average.

Despite critical acclaim, I don't see where it fits in the modern market. Some people will obviously love it, but I'm not sure who. I want a song that makes me sit back and shut my eyes in awe, not something that makes me grimace and squint.

Thom Curtis

 

The Race – In My Head It Works (Shifty Disco)

The second album from The Race, following “Be Your Alibi” (2007); “In My Head It Works” is an exciting new release, packed full of just about everything you could ever want to hear from a record.

“I Get It Wrong” couples tuneful verses with epic powerful choruses. Very Editors, but with a substantially more expressive vocal line. And the next track, “Rude Boy” is a head-bopping funky number that just just breathes excellence. This people, is fantastic.

A lot of the material sounds like, if everything were unplugged, The Race would be very similar to Frightened Rabbit. The way the vocals trailing over interesting melodies and harmonies, a feeling very much epitomised in “Moorwood.” But what makes this sound it's own, is the epic electrified chorus. The synth strings line blended with atmospheric
tremolo guitar- it's just beautiful.

All in all, this album is a gem. Go and buy it now. Please. It has elements of many popular acts (Frightened Rabbit, Oceansize, Biffy Clyro, Editors) and is expertly executed. Do your record collection a favour.

Thom Curtis


 

The Balky Mule – The Length Of The Rail (Fat Cat Records)

The Balky Mule is the alias of solo artist Sam Jones.

This could be a very relaxing pleasant album, if all kinds of synth filters weren't attached to it. An album and artist who prides himself on the use of old synths and scavenged electronics, it's a shame to hear them used to no great effect other than ruin. “Blinking” has been paused while these words are being written. It's so subtly intense and draws away from the song itself.

Yes, there are good songs on the album. No surprises though, these songs are just raw music. No unnecessary fannying about, no nonsense. “Range” is a really nice swingy country track, I really like it. “Wireless” another. “Jisaboke” another.

It's a funny one. Many songs on this album, will appeal to many different people. But the whole thing as a package, I'm not convinced.

Thom Curtis

 

Sweet Baboo - The Mighty Baboo

Clocking in at just over half an hour, The Mighty Baboo is the debut album from Cardiff-based artist Sweet Baboo aka Stephen Black, a short but sweet effort reflected in its eleven charmingly brief numbers during which Black croaks his oft-comic witticisms, swaying between dry-cynicism and wistful melancholy, over his dreamy folk ballads backed by an impressive collective of musicians who weave an organic acoustic sound blending everything from cellos to steel guitars to organs seamlessly in and out of the mix. Opening number Recapping All My Other Songs (perhaps a sly nod to label mate Spencer McGarry - whom Black also plays bass for) builds subtly and beautifully, weaving in the afore mentioned cellos with swooning chord changes, while Good Lord The Sun (Good Lord The Sun) Is Gonna Smile On Me is pure 60s rockabilly-pop, complete with its chugging train-rhythm and female backing vocals perfectly counterbalancing Black's sandpaper-vocals delivery.

There are plenty of comparisons here with Micah Hinson's equally impressive 2004 debut - the lush arrangements, Black's world-weary yet youthful croak, the short, simply structured songs (only Tom Waits Rip Off breaks the three-and-a-half-minute mark), yet Sweet Baboo delivers it all with an aw-shucks shrug and a sly wink that sets him apart from the overly-earnest American acts dominating the acoustic scene. The cynicism and black humour in his lyrics likewise ensure Sweet Baboo are not just another British twee folk-pop act, dropping lines like "Without you to lead my side/My limbs will curl up and die" into the tender ballad You're Too Close To My Hip Bone. A well-judged debut that is never in danger of outstaying its welcome.
www.sweetbaboo.co.uk

Stephen Jessep

 

Giant Paw - The Stars Are Ours (Feral Electronics)

To describe this album as being experimental is being to kind to Giant Paw. The 63 minutes of this LP are so teeth-grindingly awful that it makes me angry just thinking about it. Bizarre spoken word monologues are laid over the top of repetitive synth and keyboard effects giving the experience of a rejected Radio 4 ‘Afternoon Play’. At times there are elements of Lemon Jelly and Hot Chip, but to mention these bands in the same breath as Giant Paw would be a great disservice to them. This album sounds like the work of bored students with too much time on their hands. Despite being one myself, I still hated it.

Joe de Saulles


 

Ida Maria - Fortress ‘Round My Heart (Waterfall Records)

Having already crashed into the UK Top Twenty with ‘I like You So Much Better When you’re Naked’, Ida Maria is trying to gain even more success, away from her Norwegian homeland, with the re-release of her debut album. Opener ‘Oh My God’ has received much airplay already on Radio 1 and is a pounding, mission statement of a song which is driven along by Maria’s PJ Harvey-esque vocals. The following ‘Morning Light’ continues the frantic pace with a catchy hook which sounds as if it has been almost directly lifted from the Kooks back catalogue. As time goes on, there is no let up as ‘Forgive Me’ bounds along, all the while sounding like a lighter version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The album’s crowning moment is the afore mentioned ‘I Like You…’, it is a brilliant piece of throwaway pop with its ramshackle style and crass lyrics. The pace of the album slows after this as Maria begins to stray into Amy MacDonald territory and the plodding ballad ‘Keep Me Warm’ is something of a low point. Overall though, this album is a very listenable affair and although Ida Maria appears to be something of a ‘one trick pony’ she plays her hand very well.

Joe de Saulles

 

Le Reno Amps - Tear It Open (Drift Records)

To be fair to Le Reno Amps they sound like a band having a good time, but that is where my respect for this album ends. Opening track ‘Outlaws’ is built on a heavy Queens Of The Stone Age guitar lick that is non relenting and ultimately gives the song quite a tuneless sound. The following track ‘If You Want A Lover’ sounds bizarrely like Gogol Bordello, as vocalist Scott Maple’s broad accent begins to grate. By track three the staple of fuzzy, tuneless guitars and harsh vocals are almost unlistenable as ‘You Do Your Thing’ morphs into some kind of lurid Green Day cover version. There is nothing subtle or lasting about Le Reno Amp’s style and it ultimately leaves the listener with an unsettling experience. It is interesting to note that the recording of the album was helped by funding from the Scottish Arts Council. They’d have been better off investing elsewhere.

Joe de Saulles

 

The Bishops - For Now (W2 Records)

Sounding like a crossover of a toned down Futureheads and a less witty version of the Kaiser Chiefs, the new offering from The Bishops leaves a lot to be desired. Kicking off with the one paced ‘City Lights’, the song threatens to build up to something more promising before stagnating half way through and petering out. This trend continues with ‘Wandering By’ and ‘Nothing’, which both crawl along at a middling pace without ever getting anywhere. Things do begin to pick half way through the album with the tuneful, western sound of ‘For Now’. But this proves to be something of a false dawn as things soon switch back to the boredom of the LP’s first half, culminating in the awful Christian love song sound of ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’. Whilst The Bishops do look the part (dressing like the Young Knives) they fail to live up to their promising image by producing fourteen tracks that nearly all sound the same. A serious rethink is needed.

Joe de Saulles

 

Head of Programmes - The Magnetic South

Songs like 'The Good Ship' make Head of Programmes' James MacGregor sound not unlike an ex-member of Arab Strap backed by, and this may just be a result of the fact my Dobermann answered the door to the postman by biting his hand off from the base of the thumb and leaving it in the toaster where my blind grandmother found it and served it to me with extra jam, the Magic Numbers. But does he have a beard? That said, 'Waiting Room Number' is a bit of a nice song. I think you could safely take the 'Waiting Room' bit, and the 'terrible' vague nature of a room with a 'Number' which is not specified and might be in a hospital, and the slow repeated chords and say 'this is meant to be dramatic and sad'. "... the wrong words / to maybe say the right things", where the right thing is "'I had always loved you'". Police light has a plain quality that makes you think "this sounds like my mate's band", whilst at the same time possessing a bit of a "my mate's a bit too obvious...". "It takes two / to make a full on collision", "It takes two / for a mutual decision" - sounds like the sort of thing my mate, who is really quite keen on Ryan Adams might like. He's a bit of a 'sensitive' twerp. The kind who might relish songs that end with statements like "I don't deserve you". It's better than Bon Iver, because there are no falsetto bits and I don't think it was recorded in a cabin in a forest in some hills in Wyoming where they only have 128K dial-up, but it has a wobbly lip that Black Flag just doesn't. On his song about religion, which is called "A Heart Wrung Of Hope", asks "why are we still sitting down?" The answer comes about a line later - "all the while I'm thinking / how could all this be real?". Turns out he used to have a moustache, and he got rid of it. He's "still bleeding", in fact. Dude probably needs a tissue.

Phil Coales

 

New Rhodes - Everybody Loves A Scene

At a time when the indie scene is thriving, the title of this album is very fitting. New Rhodes is one of a number of new bands bursting onto the indie scene, but after listening to this album Everybody Loves A Scene it emphasises the fact that you can have too much of the same thing. New Rhodes clearly have talent and their music draws influences from bands like The Killers but there is nothing that will make them stand out. Using technical guitar riffs and melodic vocals shows that New Rhodes do have the credentials to at least get a reputation on the scene, but it is hard to see them becoming a sellout band. The highlight of the album is ‘I’ll Wait For You By The Coast’ - this is where New Rhodes show their potential, playing a ‘big band’ anthem with a song you can imagine people singing along to. It’s just a shame that this is the high point on an otherwise mediocre album. If New Rhodes are to make it big, they need to define a sound unique to them and not just follow the crowd.
www.newrhodes.com

Tim Birkbeck

 

Various: Sci-Fi-Lo-Fi - (Shoegazing 1985-2007) (Soma Records)

Radio 1's Rob Da Bank compiles this 15 track overview of a musical genre whose name probably ensured that it remained in the shadows of the late 80s. A pity, there were some very worthy musicians at work two decades ago but despite an ever active scene dedicated to maintaining and recreating some of the headier moments of the 'scene that celebrates itself' it would appear those all important mainstream breakthroughs are as distant a prospect as they were at the beginning of the 90s. Ultra Vivid Scene, for example: 'Mercy Seat' is as fine a slice of grindcore as Dinosaur Jr (also on here somewhere) would ever record, but their obscurity is today almost total. Ride's 'Nowhere' is a doomy piece of feedback-led guitar growl and there was and is a bit of a divide between the heavier end of things and the almost bubblegum pop of such as Lush and Slowdive, whose 'When The Sun Hits' quite fully makes the case for a proper reassesment of this entire óuvre.

Where the compilation falls down though is where things move away from the classic late 80s format. Soma has a reputation as an electronica specialist and the inclusion of Boards Of Canada (sounding a lot like Tangerine Dream) and M83 (sounding a lot like an early Depeche Mode demo track) doesn't really add much to the compilation premise, and only serve to highlight the depth of innovation that bands such as Chapterhouse and Pale Saints were capable of. We do get Ulrich Schnauss' 'On My Own' remixed by Robin Guthrie, which has the feel of some of Lush's mid 90s work and the Cocteau Twins themselves, plus also the JAMC whose 'Just Like Honey' opens the proceedings. The Final track is a bit of a dud though. 'White Horses' was the theme of a 1960s French kids TV show and was originally performed by la petite chanteuse known only as Jackie, and Dean & Brittas' reimagining of this forgotten morsel of eurotwee is a bit of a downer as a closing number.

This album highlights the need for a proper overview of (I really don't like the term) Shoegazing, and Rob Da Bank probably could compile a more comprehensive series of albums, perhaps something like the Pebbles series, with which to share some more of these obscurities with us all. The alternative is of course to do your own research into this lot though, to follow Ultra Vivid Scene's advice and 'taste the fire for yourself'.

Jon Gordon

 

Susie Ro and Ayla - 'She And I'

Time for some gentle acoustic harmonising, and Susie Ro and Ayla are confident and adept performers whose songs belie the fact that they're less than a year old as a duo. One guitar, two voices and a background in voice workshops and busking expeditions to europe and New Zealand, which is quite seriously paying the dues on the folk circuit and their chief influence is probably Tracy Chapman, although I wouldn't claim any very detailed knowledge of the acoustic world and they'd doubtlessly put me right were they to disagree.

As the album progresses, either Susie or Ayla reveal a definite skill as a pianist (busking with it round NZ must've been awkward though) and this adds a dimension of restraint to what are some heartfelt earthmotherly sentiments, such as Turn From The Sky's 'You think you can buy the earth / but you'll never have my soul', while Long Live The Wilderness puts it on the line pretty bluntly; 'you'll never tempt me to follow your ways' and quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins almost as an afterthought. But it's the captivating warmth of their sound that really makes 'She And I' a bit of a find, and the atmosphere is one of a very small pub gig, on a very dark summer evening. Susie Ro and Ayla might sound a bit too hippy dippy for some tastes, but lay your cynicism aside for a hour or so, you might just hear something you didn't realise you wanted to.
http://www.myspace.com/susieroandayla

Jon Gordon

 

Downdime – Knowing Too Much (Squirrel)

There’s something so joyful about this record that it makes you wonder why all bands don’t take at least 5 years to record their first album. Firstly I suppose we should declare an interest here – we put Downdime on at one of our gigs back in 2005 and damn fine they were too. Little did we know it would be 2009 before we would get hear an album though.

So what is the effect of this hiatus? Well the most striking aspect is the sound of a band that is entirely comfortable with themselves, they are having fun and they have honed each track down to its perfect composition. There’s no room for vast experimentation and 15-piece orchestras (take note Still Flyin’). Downdime paint lightly but perfectly with their restrained palette of sonic toys. There are frequent returns to the parpy keyboard sounds, the jangly guitars (overlaid occasionally with great slabs of overdriven guitar that crunch right through you) and Ged’s unique vocal style, like a sedated Brian Molko.

Another key is Downdime’s ability to combine their upbeat pop sensibilities with a darker more introspective side. Classic example is ‘Time Runs Too Slow’ which straddles Velvet Underground and Idlewild’s ‘Remote Part’ with a gentle aplomb.

Then finally there is the epic, the triumphalist and surely the peak of the band’s output to date; ‘Shine’. It’s swirling psychedelic genius which epitomises the band’s mastery of light/dark sounds.

You get the feeling that Downdime have never held much stock in trying to climb to the top of the slippery pole of the music industry, instead creating music which purely interests and entertains for the sake of it, not for shifting units. But with ‘Knowing Too Much’ they might just accidentally do both.
www.downdime.co.uk

SB

 

...And You Will Know US By the Trail of Dead – The Century of Self (Superball)

As a self-confessed newcomer to ...Trail of Dead I felt it was my duty to give this album a more thorough than usual listen and it’s basically been on the CD player on and off for a couple of weeks. Over that time certain tracks and parts have slowly seeped into my brain but why is it that overall I am having so much trouble in liking ‘The Century of Self’?

Well I suppose first up is the fact that the album is really long – it’s difficult to find the time to play the whole thing right through so a few subtle nuances may have been missed by me I suppose. That said, for all its dynamic qualities I’d say this album is not particularly subtle at all. In fact I’m not sure if it is just the fact that the vocal style really grates on me as it constantly sounds strained – like someone trying to make themselves heard over the undisputed cacophonous compositions. From the off, what was surely intended as a soaring introduction (‘Giant’s Causeway’) sounds like a more misguided experiment in prog rock. And the lengthy ‘Isis Unveiled’ is more Levellers Austin camper van than Austin, Texas.

There’s a real sense of sweeping triumphalism about many of the tracks such as ‘Halcyon Days’ but too often this drifts into the realms of bombast. I mean, an angelic herald of angels? Conversely ‘Bells of Angels’ benefits from its simpler format of power guitars and hard-hitting chorus all played over an incessant piano chord that works really well.

Album highlights for me are ‘Inland Sea’ in which the vocal part is far gentler and so avoids the sense of a hippy singalong. In fact it’s got a feel of Becoming X era Sneaker Pimps about it. And also there’s the instrumental interlude of ‘An August Theme’ which is only 50-odd seconds long but forms the perfect bridge between the two slightly more disappointing adjoining tracks.

So overall a bit of a flawed masterpiece. There are undoubtedly flashes of real brilliance in here but schizy frenetic nature of much of the music makes it a challenging listen, if not completely unpleasant.
www.myspace.com/trailofdead

SB