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albums - june 2009


 
 

Video Nasties - On All Fours

Some Punky intensity can go a long way, unless you sound like you want to be Johnny Borrell. Or rather, I get the impression that they spend all their time in pubs of Camden, telling each other how really deep they feel things.

I bet they play obscure guitars because they want to start a revival of them.

Saying that it’s quite nice for the relatively spiky, well crafted pop it is. That’s the thing, it’s desperate to convince you of the grit but it’s so very very polished. It’s been polished too much and the heart that might well be there is gone.

And it still sounds like they’re trying too hard to convince me of something

Alright if you like popular indie, but they’d probably hate you for liking popular indie.

Christopher Carney

 

Kitsune Maison – Compilation 7 (The Lucky One)

In the big book of music review clichés, the compilation album has a chapter all of its own. It’s inevitable a reviewer won’t like every single track on the album, meaning the resulting appraisal is certain to contain the phrase “a mixed bag”. Luckily, I’m well aware of this, and I aim to shield this particular bullet more deftly than Batfink after his annual wing-service.

This is the seventh Kitsune compilation, so they should be a dab hand at this kind of thing by now. And over 19 tracks and 70 minutes of up-tempo electro/dance grooves, they’ve got an almost unfair amount of shots in which to score that proverbial goal.

It doesn’t start well: the opening five tracks being arguably the weakest in the set. But things take a dramatic turn for the better with Lifelike’s remix of ‘In For The Kill’ by La Roux. This remix is actually a considerable improvement on the original and is downright wonderful: icy, robotic and detached. It also features some rather fine singing by the Peter-Pan-Pop-Pixie herself.

‘Fringe Element’ by Benji is also a goodie, coming across like prime Daft Punk. autoKratz’s ‘Always More’ would have made it a hat-trick, but I’ve had my fill of atonal vocoder treatments over the years and really don’t want to hear any more.

After a slight dip in quality, Men’s ‘Make It Reverse’ is a relief: the gloriously meaty drum fills being the icing on a rather tasty cake. (Why does electronic music always sound much better with a female vocal?)

‘Solo’ by Chew Lips is utterly ace. Really, it’s brilliant; the best thing on the album, in fact. Great Karen O style vocals, interesting lyrics and a cracking little chorus: almost worth the admission fee itself. Chateaux Marmont’s ‘Beagle’ is also excellent, proving you don’t need to repeat the same four bar riff throughout an entire song to make it danceable. It’s got superb “pots and pans” percussion on it too, which never fails to raise a chuckle.

Maybb’s ‘Touring In NY’ is built on an effective ascending synth line. If you were to hear it in a club - possibly after one too many Ribena’s – I pretty much guarantee you’d think it was the greatest song in the world. On a warm Sunday afternoon however, its lack of substance is glaringly apparent. Renaissance Man’s ‘Rythym’ (sic) goes on for a while without doing an awful lot, but final track, ‘Bejan’ by Tanlines, is cuter than a kitten in dungarees blowing you kisses.

So there you are. Some good tracks, some bad tracks, and some so forgettable you can’t even remember them when they’re playing. All in all, it sounds like a bit of a mixed bag, doesn’t it?

Jonathan R Groves

 

Sad Day For Puppets – Unknown Colours (Sonic Cathedral)

Debut Album from Swedish band sponsored in the UK by the Sonic Cathedral label. The label itself is an offshoot of the “regularly irregular” club night whose stated remit is to celebrate the music of the Shoegazer (always a woeful term) bands that stalked London and the Thames Valley in the early 90’s. Think Chapterhouse, think Ride, think Slowdive and you should get the picture.

So with that in mind, Sad Day for Puppets employ a similarly expansive breeze of sound to the aforementioned and cross it with a pop sensibility that only occasionally gets too sickly. All the indie pop ingredients are there; bit of xylophone here, some echoed sleigh bells there. They are at their most effective on songs like “Blue Skies” and the majestic, Beach Boys tinged “Lay Your Burden on Me”. At the other end of the spectrum “Cherry Blossom” is probably the worst offender at overstepping the twee mark, and “All the Songs” must surely have broken some sort of record for usage of the word “tiny” in three and a half minutes.

However, it’s a little hard to work out why Sonic Cathedral are backing something that doesn’t particularly sound like the established Shoegaze brand they are celebrating. Sure, it’s a big sound there. But the J.Mascis-isms that close “Marble Gods” suggest that if anything, they look less to the Thames Valley and more to America for their inspiration. Similarly, Anna Eklund’s vocal delivery with its transatlantic inflections throws back comparisons to Tanya Donnelly.

All said and done though, this is a promising start to proceedings.

RM

 

Soundpad – Soundpad (Faculty Music)

Soundpad is a British Council sponsored project with the renowned John Leckie in the producer’s chair, set up to promote what by all accounts is a flourishing alternative music scene in India. Four acts (two unsigned, two rather curiously on major labels) have been chosen for this sampler, and had two songs each recorded under Leckie and Dan Austin (Doves) in a studio in Mumbai.

The purpose is two-fold – local musicians and studio boffins get experience of recording know–how British style, and a spotlight is placed onto a fledgling alternative music scene.

Of the four bands, there is a fifty-fifty split between those that are almost completely westernised in their approach and those that use elements of home in their music.

So, in the red corner we have Medusa, urban hypnotists peddling an agreeably mesmerizing brand of trip-hoppishness, best exemplified on “Hilltop”; and Indigo Children who do passable impersonations of the My Vitriol and Arctic Monkeys respectively on their songs but unfortunately never really break out into any sort of stride of their own. In the case of both bands, unless you looked closely at the liner notes, you’d be hard pushed to know they weren’t from the UK

And in the blue corner are Advaita, who let us know on their Myspace that they are influenced by bands such as Yes and Pink Floyd but in reality pitch up with an asinine sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an album by Seal or Sting. Home ingredients are sprinkled onto the songs as an afterthought more than anything else. Somewhere in the distance, a bloke sings in Hindi. The effect is all a bit Timotei advert. Very difficult to escape anything other than MOR references with this lot. So it is Swarathma who are the only one of the four acts to incorporate anything substantial from their indigenous culture to proceedings, and the only one to sing the majority of the time in anything other than English. It’s raucous, it’s fun, and even with the obvious language gap, songs like “Yeshu, Allah aur Krishna” are blindingly infectious.

Did they choose the right bands? Well, samplers are notoriously mixed bags; Indigo Children show reasonable levels of musicianship but precious little originality and tangling with Advaita’s library music is something best avoided. But on the face of it a fifty percent strike rate isn’t bad; Medusa definitely merit further investigation and only terminal depression could make you ignore the sheer good vibes emanating from Swarathma.

RM

 

Black Bikini Alpha – Grand Madness (RWS)

The clue is in the title. Suffering madness is probably the only way to enjoy this. It’s a remorseless listen and one of these albums that thematically treads the well worn cliché of living the alienating urban existence (Swag, London Town is Falling Down). The London duo amply demonstrate their ability to write catchy anthems like Kicking And Screaming, but in many ways that’s their problem – they’re trying too hard to please. In the process, they sound as if trying to make music to order for a questionable Hollywood action film with lots of souped-up cars, and starring Vin Diesel. Vocals are frantic, cymbals crash, guitars chug, bass is fuzzy and sleazy sounding. But it all sounds like a marketing exercise and lacking any real depth. You can almost hear the compressor squeezing the tonal life out of it. The only respite to be had is the closing two and a half minutes of “The Big Something” – a thing of pristine and fragile beauty, it is the true diamond to be found amongst this mangled car-wreck of an album, and it rather leaves you wondering, given it is completely out of context to what precedes it, why they didn’t feel the need to go down that road instead.

RM

 

Enter Shikari - Common Dreads

Once in a while an album comes along that makes you thank an appropriate higher entity for the miracle of ears. This is such an album.

Enter Shikari have returned with new found grit, creativity and conviction, and an accompanying maturity and a higher lyrical prowess to go along with the refreshing, organic and powerful music to help express it.

Whilst the first album was no doubt an immense achievement it came on the wave of a huge amount of internet buzz and magazine support that gave rave reviews of singles, EPs, their MySpace impact and in particular their live show. The pressure was immense and ‘Take To Your Skies’ was a debut that satisfied that pressure, and then some, expressing intent and potential that went way over the heads of many of the naive and superficial fans that latched on to the band wagon.

‘Common Dreads’ comes with proclamations of “Factories of slavery, wars of elusive bravery”, and cries that “We must unite”. The snobbery of the bourgeoisie music press might call this message immature, misguided or simply an attempt at lip service for the worn out message of World Peace and unity that Bono has irritated the world with since The Joshua Tree. I can assure this message is anything but. Enter Shikari have never been ones to sing about relationships, partying and all the other trappings of youth or at least not in the same way as the other bands that came in the scene along with them - Kids in Glass Houses, You Me At Six. No in terms of message and lyrics Enter Shikari have always been ready to embrace alternative view points, covering multiple bases from environmental concerns to dating insecurities.

With ‘Common Dreads’ they take this one step further capturing perfectly the frustration and “common dreads” (shared fears and concerns) that exists in Britain and worldwide, and that stand in stark contrast to the promise of ‘Change’ that accompanied the Obamarama that sweeped America early this year and most of last year. Shikari also express an awareness of the air of potential change and positivity that exists worldwide post-inauguration, and express concerns for the longevity of the promised ‘Change’, offering the potential for revolution in the immediate wake of such a shift in global ideology and power. Havoc A and Havoc B with their shared declaration that: “The lions are at the door, we ain’t taking orders from snakes no more” and a vibe that’s almost Faithless inspired with a Sid Vicious snarl.

In terms of sound Enter Shikari have always been known for their experimentation – gaining attention for the combination of hardcore music and the music of live DJ sets, but this experimentation allows Shikari to make even larger leaps and bounds on their second album. There is still their traditional sound present, though it’s taken a shot to the arm thats given it even more power, expressed most evidently on ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Step Up’ where heavy guitars, screams and synthesiser combine to express their traditional power and energy whilst simultaneously showing their advancements and improvements in terms of production, electronics, guitars, drums, vocals, content. In fact pretty much everything. ‘Step Up’ in particular sounds incredible with a sound that somewhat resembles a gig that Rage Against the Machine would headline with The Prodigy, Korn and The Streets as support.

Other standouts are the first single Juggernauts which is still just as manic and just as vital as it was on first listen. As an extra treat on the album it is extended from the single version with added spaced out electronics and an outro that add to overwhelming tautness and tension in the sound.

The diversity and proficiency found in these first few songs can be found throughout the album whether that be ‘Zzzonked’ with guitars and drums that lie somewhere between Korn and Gallows and vocals that do the same, and lines like “Staring in your Stella looking desperately for inspiration”, or ‘No Sleep Tonight’ that’s got the poppiest chorus on the album “you’re not getting any sleep tonight”, that brings to mind self titled album Blink-182 and that will clearly be immensely popular at shows, with its catchy sing-along and hands in the air atmosphere.

The song on the album that best expresses Enter Shikari’s capacity for experimentation and proficiency in a variety of genres is ‘Gap in the Fence’. Whilst it initially sounds a great deal like Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly in terms of vibe, acoustics and lyrics in the opening few minutes Shikari do it so well that they could make an entire album using just acoustic guitars and it would still be phenomenal. Of course though this is Enter Shikari and after 2 minutes, the tempo builds and builds as the synth comes in and an urgency comes with Rou’s vocals that rises like the tide and then crashes on to the beach and culminates in this trance, club anthem minute that somehow just fits perfectly in a song that began with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar. It then finally succumbs to the drums of Rob Rolfe and ends in this scream that leaves you breathless and brainwashed as you try to remember in vain everywhere that you’ve been taken by the song. It’s like having your ears being put into a blender with your iTunes library. And it sounds goooooood.

The album continues to exceed expectations with the fantastic The Jester – “We’ve had a joker in the pack for quite some time, so I think it’s just about time we roast this swine”, that begins with a slightly weird Austin Powers woodwind and bass grooves that along with the spoken word ramblings of Rou that promise to roast “the Joker in the Pack” serves to make this an unavoidable standout that requires multiple listens to appreciate everything this band are trying. It even comes with pre-prepared potential for live crowd insanity. An electronic break segues into pounding drums that like handclaps build, build, build and build into the ultimate bounce that will crack, break and shatter floors in venues all over the country in a matter of weeks. I cannot wait to see this album live,

The album climaxes with ‘Fanfare for the Conscious Man’ that begins with horns, strings and synthesisers and the declaration that “We’re doing it because we care”. As if we didn’t know Enter Shikari care. This isn’t just lip service or a vain attempt at experimentation by a band that many have already written off. The music is phenomenal, the lyrics are often fantastically witty and always consistently strong, the production is incredible and the new found political edge to their sound is a mature and educated response to a society that’s been dipping its toes in the deep end for years now. “We are the world and we are the people and we will be heard”: Enter Shikari have provided an album that defines this lost generation of a world thats starting to feel its age. Enter Shikari are proposing nothing new, but their message is true. The world might be cracking, but mankind has the potential to be the best kind of polyfiller, able to smooth out the cracks and repair the fractured foundations of community, earnesty and hope.

The music snobs may turn up their nose, the scene kids might not think Shikari are cool anymore. Don’t listen to them. Do not follow them. Find your own answers and solutions and if you lose faith put this album back on and you’ll find a renewed desire to continue your journey with new found confidence and inspiration. This album is full to the brim with creativity, originality, positivity and is a defining statement on a par with ‘The Sound of Punk to Come’, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, ‘London Calling’, ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Nevermind’, in terms of vitality and social importance.

Chris Sharpe

 

The Ghost of a Thousand - New Hopes, New Demonstrations

TGOAT’s first album ‘This is Where the Fight Begins’ seemed to have only ever been heard by me. None of my friends had a clue who they were, and despite rave reviews from several reputable music rags, in the media as a whole Gallows got all the attention that TGOAT might otherwise have earned. Clearly in it for the love of the music TGOAT return from the land of ABBA with a much more evident rock and roll groove to compliment their already sterling hardcore leanings from the first album. As with the first album the riffs are heavy and intense, but with enough musical know how to get you in the groove (in particular on first single ‘Bright Lights’) which is very Every Time I Die, in terms of sonic scope.

An increased tightness is evident in their sound, perhaps as a result of an increased production budget, or more admirably the live recording of the album and the years of intense touring since their first album though the album is less raw and vociferous in its assault. There are more shifts in volume, tempo, and more breaks to let particular guitar riffs shine or bass and drums roll along. In particular the use of more clean vocals, a saxophone solo at the end of ‘Split the Atom’ and the keys that are most evident on ‘Fed To the Ocean’s show a change perhaps not in the level of intensity, but in the way the band approaches and records that intensity.

Overall this is a very strong progression from the first album, as whilst this was always a band strong in terms of sound and ability (as is evidenced by their renowned live shows and the rave reviews of their first album) they have perhaps not matured but developed more diversity in their approach to the songs. They give you a chance to breathe more often on this album making use of the loud-soft dynamic to allow the songs to build up in intensity rather than constantly shouting in your face as was the case on ‘This Is Where the Fight Begins’ with its battle-cry sound grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and dragged you along with it before dumping you unceremoniously at the end of its 25 minute course. That is not to say TGOAT are any less intense and violent under the surface, they merely are better at controlling their music’s temper and allowing the subtler aspects of their sound and lyrics to get a chance to shine.

Chris Sharpe

 

Tiny Masters of Today – Skeletons (Mute)

Eleven songs lasting twenty-six minutes. Oh no it's another one of these. Well. Yes and no, wait and see.

The opening track “Drop The Bomb” begins with a series of noises that sound like a guitar combined with every error or warning message that any electronic equipment has EVER given you, a grimey tone that makes your skin curl, but you can't help but listen further. The song transforms (ish) into a progressing instrumental full of compressed drums, bass, crunchy guitar, and electronica. And it's actually not bad.

The following songs that feature vocals, well, there's no tune let's put it that way. But, it's the kind of no-tune that still kinda works, if you know what I mean. The music has been put together in such a way that half-arsed vocals work just fine.

I can't help but think that this album, in its entirity, could probably pass as the soundtrack for SSX Tricky. It's a bit off centre, it's a bit arty, a bit electro-Robyn-meets-Peaches, and a bit annoying but at the same time, annoyingly bearable. Simplicity, repetition, and grime are obviously the key themes that have been lazily tacked onto the Tiny Masters' drawing board, but it works well.

But they're lucky, because they could have easily done a Shrag, or Elvis Suicide, and then you wouldn't have been able to find a positive comment for love nor money. I don't know why I like it, but I do. Brilliant.
www.myspace.com/tinymasters

Thom Curtis

 

The Joker's Daughter – The Last Laugh (Double Six)

This new album from Helena Costas and Danger Mouse, aka Joker's Daughter, opens with a blissful “Worms Head,” which features the lead female vocal together with acoustic guitar and a head-nodding beat, with a whooping synth and piano making contributions too. Costas's voice is light and airy, and glides beautifully over the mature, and simple yet effective music. It's a real winner, and may well have just single-handedly sold the album. The songs, clearly influenced by a foreign heritage, are cleanly captured, much like the style of critically acclaimed Nitin Sawnhey.

The album does stray to other sounds with the eerie and dark, electronic mysterious title track; a real carnival of horrors. Also with the short and classic country styled “JD Folk Blues,” the slightly more rocky “Under The Influence of Jaffa Cakes” and the altogether weird “The Running Goblin.” But in general the album features songs that mainly comprise of vocal and acoustic guitar, much like the opening track; personal favourites being “Go Walking” and “The Bull Bites Back.”

Costas has a joyously simple and clear voice that carries each song, although the music could easily be released vocal-free under a name of Sawnhey or even Bonobo. Well, maybe not all the songs, but certainly a handful.

I'll admit I was a bit put off when I read “folk-pop,” but The Last Laugh has turned out to be a gem. It's a beautiful album, and definitely worth a listen. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Thom Curtis

 

Cass McCombs – Catacombs (Domino)

With the opening track “Dreams Come True Girl,” the first thing you instantly notice, is that what you're listening to, is dangerously close fo Ben E. King's “Stand By Me.” Both in the chord sequence utilised, and even in the gentle bass stabs. Thankfully the vocal line is different, or I'm sure we'd be heading for legal issues. But no, the sound so far is very nostalgic. Imagine if all music from the sixties was recorded on modern equipment, minus the crackle and hissing, and you can imagine Cass McCombs, or at least this opening track.

Throughout the album, one key vibe is that of country music. Perhaps it's his nasal American ununique voice, perhaps it's the same unplugged clean guitar tone than spans all of the album. This isn't one that will have you singing along, nor ordering your friends to buy a copy immediately; and even more unfortunately it can't even be described as just an alright album. Because, despite the fact that it's all very tuneful and whatnot, the significant lack of excitement is far too detrimental. I'm switching off.

One good point however, depending on which way you look at it, is that Cass McCombs has made 11 tracks last nearly an hour – something virtually unheard of in the modern market.

No doubt setting out to keep the art of songwriting alive, McCombs attempts to deliver a nostalgic, raw, classic album, and no doubt considers himself one of the only true songwriters alive, or something.
Lives in a log cabin, grows all his own vegetables you know the sort.
It's either a talented man who has been sucked into the works of shoulda-been-famous songwriters who tragically died young, or an extremely pretenteous individual. Or maybe even neither. But by painting these potential stereotypes, you should be able to envisage what you're getting with McCombs.

Aside from the fact that I personally find it excruciatingly tedious, there are no doubt circles who will love this release. (Albeit they all live in log cabins and...) Perhaps the lyrics are mind-blowing, but in this current state, there's no way you can be interested enough to listen.

Thom Curtis

 

Hanne Hukkelberg - Blood from a Stone

I bet if you told someone 5 years back that one of the biggest influences on music in 2009 would be Kate Bush, then you'd have been laughed out of the building, but of late it seems like eccentric, wistful, Bjork-y women are popping up everywhere. Norwegian Hanne Hukkelberg might be late to the party but shes got enough tricks up her sleeve to give Bat for Lashes, Lykke Li & co a run for their money.

The track 'Blood from a Stone' should probably be your first point of call, a lovely little number with lurching bass and some pretty (technical term alert) 'twinkly bits'. The songs here, are lush and expansive but theres a tenseness and an edge which keep things from getting too 'Enya'. The folky weirdness running through this record is probably its strongest suit. Something'll clatter in the left speaker, then a demented flute'll pop up for a bit, and you'll get a strange urge to dress yourself in feathers and run through a forest at midnight. Just me then?

There are also some deceptively heavy drums in places, perhaps a throw-back to Hanne's apparent heavy metal past (which I'm not sure I'd have guessed without reading the press release). At other times there are reminders of Sonic Youth's quieter moments. While I'm not sure if this is quite a fully formed album, (there are quite a few tracks towards the end that I could take or leave) theres still enough here to make me curious about what she puts out next, and you should be too.

Andy Glynn

 

White Light Parade - House of Commons

I'm not really sure what to say about this album. I'm not really qualified enough to say what makes this band any different from the 648 other bands of gobby lads with a chip on their collective shoulders, currently boring the nation. Perhaps a qualified expert, (the kind of person who spends their life studying and categorising different types of insects) could find some subtle distinguishing feature that I've overlooked, but to the layman this just looks like another group whos musical reference-points span Oasis and the first 2 Clash albums.

I mean, just because you can form a band, it doesn't necessarily mean you should. If you're not going to add any of your own personality and just trot out the same old worn-out riffs and clichés about 'living for the weekend,' and 'hating this town' & wanting to 'burn it down', because those are the sort of things bands sing about; then why even bother? I don't get it. The first track even takes a good 60% of its lyrics straight from 'What a waster?' by the Libertines and every 2nd line from there on in sounds like its
half-inched from another song. This is an album so shameless in its lack of ideas you start wondering halfway through its its some sort of DJ Shadow-style art statement about sampling, as if someone took every record on the indie charts from the last five years and spliced them together. This lot make the View sound like Captain Beefheart.

And the thing is, its not even bad per se. Just incredibly, incredibly lazy. White Light Parade certainly aren't noticeably any worse than the Pigeon Dectectives, say, or the Enemy, its just a case of timing. Those bands pump out exactly the same shit, but they got there first and like Indiana Jones, they've rolled under the gap as the door slammed shut. White Light Parade aren't going to be so lucky. The one saving grace here is that it looks like landfill indie's finally reached its event horizon, what we'll call the 'Northern Uproar' stage. If we all wish very hard it might stop soon.

Andy Glynn

 

The Legends - Over and Over

I was going to try and get through this review with out mentioning the words 'Jesus', 'Mary', 'Chain' & 'and' but I'd be doing you all a disservice. This is a record absolutely, knowingly, indebted to Scotlands most tinnitus-afflicted sons. Now thats nothing new, the last Magnetic Fields album was one big love letter to the Reid bros, and their reverb-drenced sound is the only thing keeping the Ravonettes in gainful employment. So do we really need another album of swirling guitars and big girl-group drums? Well, you already know what its going to sound like, but if you give it a chance theres still a lot here to enjoy. Its one of the best-produced albums I've heard in a while, big and roomy and full of bass, and singer Johan's voice floats above the songs dreamily (although points knocked off for using auto-tune so recklessly). The best moments are actually the ones when he moves away from the JAMC template, like the twee-pop of 'Monday to Saturday'.

Anyone whos a fan of the Swedish bands Kent or Johnny Boy should probably check this out as its makes a good companion to their sound too. Still, theres one band whos ghost lurks in every second of this record. Still, as shameless rip-offs go, this is one of the better ones.

Andy Glynn

 

Sonic Boom Six - City of Thieves

For some people the phrase 'political ska-punk' is probably enough to bring them out in hives. Its just so easy to do badly. We've all seen enough tedious, right-on crusties, playing first on the bill at local festivals, in our time to be a bit wary. So it comes as a relief that Sonic Boom Six are absolutely nothing like that. They're bursting full of ideas and can do 'thoroughly pissed off with the state of the nation' without sounding too preachy. This is an album which flits between hardcore, drum 'n' bass, pop choruses and hip-hop at will without sounding forced or tacked-on. At times there are elements of ADF, The King Blues or Refused, but this isn't a band you can pin down precisely. The intro track breaks into a sample-heavy, electronic groove that gives you a good idea of what to expect. 'City of Thieves' seems to be a concept album about what Daily Express readers would call 'broken Britain', telling stories of kids running wild, boarded-up Woolworths' & the dubious virtues of the data protection act. In amongst it all theres a decent pop sensibility, on songs like 'Polished Chrome and Open Kitchens' and the bratty pop-punk stormer 'Back 2 Skool'. Then they'll go and do one that sounds like Metallica, just to throw you.

There are some moments that don't quite do it for me, and they tend to be the more trad. songs, like 'Rum Little Skallywag' but even then the lyrics make up a lot of the failings. Their takes on modern life are observational and personal, rather than the sloganeering that taints a lot of the punk scene. 'Strange Transformation' for example, is a less patronising 'I Predict a Riot' with about 30 times the wit.

This is a band that are worth checking out, and even if you're not necessarily a fan of the genre you might surprise yourself by finding something to admire.

Andy Glynn

 

Yppah - They Know What Ghost Know (Ninja Tune)

God alone knows what ghost actually does know, but this second effort from Joe Corrales Jr AKA Yppah sees the Texan in sparkling form. Despite the press-release threat of opening track “Son Saves The Rest” being a wall-of-noise-pummeller, there is nothing on this instrumental record that will melt the senses.
“Gumball Machine Weekend” trips along with its shy, sunny disposition and the album brims with a confidence , taking a number of genres and chucking them in the pot to make a trippy psychedelic stew that doesn’t fail to satisfy.
My Bloody Valentine are heavily referenced but it is the ambient recorded side of that band that’s on display here, rather than the aural bludgeoning live side; the title track comes closest to this along with “Sun Flower, Sun Kissed”. The is mood music par excellence, and much like listening to an Air record, it bimbles along at a mid-pace, not quite thumb up bum, mind in neutral but enough to still engage you along the way. Those who get a bit antsy at thought of music without vocals or anything resembling a song on it are probably advised to steer clear, but for those of the right persuasion, this is a fine album.

RM.

 

Alt Track - Silence is Approval

A politically driven electro-punk band from Bradford with a penchant for experimentation and influences ranging from 65 Days Of Static to Rage Against The Machine sounds like it should be a lot of fun. What actually occurs is a very downtempo, bitter sounding record that actually ends up having more in common with Industrial bands of the early 90s but replacing the self-loathing with punk politics and ethics and grinding electronics with drum and bass - which actually works very well. Whilst occasionally by the very nature of the combination of electronica and hip-hop influences some songs come out more Hadouken in places than perhaps is beneficial. However the electronica inspiration comes off very well, whilst occasionally you recognise their influences all to easily this is clearly a band that have done their homework and have learnt what works and what doesn’t. And so for most part the beats work really well and you don’t miss the presence of more live instrumentation in their sound and you can imagine their songs having a great amount more weight and power in a live setting. ‘Beats & A Plan’ in particular is a standout when it comes to their more electronica based songs, and the repeated refrain of “we’ll dance to the sound of the drum” must clearly make it a live favourite. It’s hard to criticise the album and whilst the more cynical among us might choose to turn their nose up at the bands politics or their electronic/drum and bass/dub influenced sound, the band won me over easily by track 5 ‘View From A Mountian’ that begins with a recording of Luther King and upon the introduction of female vocals easily became a favourite. The only weakness sometimes lies in the repetitive nature of a few song and occasionally the vocals could do with some more strength and conviction, but clearly Alt Track are happy to let their music do the talking for the most part and taking a back seat on vocal duties is perhaps more a result of post-rock influences than an unintentional flaw in their sound.

Chris Sharpe

 

Heads We Dance – Love Technology (This is Fake DIY)

It’s taken me a little while to really warm to this album but now after many listens I am glad that I persevered. Despite having already heard 3 or 4 of the tracks released as singles I initially struggled to pick out any other songs that took the attention. But like a slowly unfolding mystery the plot of ‘Love Technology’ slowly unfurled and the story is indeed a rewarding one.

In some ways this is not a subtle album at all. Heads We Dance are full of theatricality and the CD bursts into life right from the off with the searing techno of ‘The Human Touch’ – all very French dance a la Justice or Daft Punk. Similarly large stretches of this record seem to expand like a West End musical score or operetta – ‘Low Carbon Life’ being the quiet soul searching number to the glamour and bluster of ‘My Heart is Set on You’. But there are also a host of other atmospheres scattered around like the icily cool ‘Computer Love’ and the more sophisticated sounding ‘When Sirens Sound’ which sees a nice sassy female vocal coming in, providing a good counterpoint to what I hope I will be forgiven for describing as quite a camp sounding male vocal sound.

So ignore all the stuff about Popjustice song of the day, streaming iPhone apps and all that other geeky stuff. Just sit back and listen to this electro pop gem.
www.headswedance.com

SB

 

MC Lars – This Gigantic Robot Kills (Crappy)

When it starts off with what sounds like the drum line from Led Zepellin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ you might think this is going to be another one of those earnest rap records that is all about posturing and little about the music. After all, the album is dedicated to Wesley Willis, a punk performer who would ritually greet his fans by head butting them ‘playfully’ to such an extent that he built up a calcified bump on his forehead. He’s dead now. That is posturing of an extreme nature, no, actually it’s just fucking nuts. But actually what does soon becomes apparent is that Lars has a subtle command of mixing up comedy, observational humour, well chosen samples and a knack for killer hooks.

Musically the album is massively varied and whereas some of the lyrical content may give cause to dub Lars as the modern day Weird Al Jankovic (in fact, the real Al Jankovic cameos on ‘True Player For Real’) the range of styles and deliveries keeps things fresh throughout. Fugazi’s ‘Waiting Room’ is not sampled just for its killer bass line but also as an abstract sideswipe at the anarchist movement in ‘No Logo’. Other victims for Lars observations include vacuous scenester girls, his drummer’s lack of tidiness, the green movement and the imperial measurement system. For real. So yes, some of this is pretty adolescent humour but I still find myself smiling and nodding along to it. He’s even squeezed some of Therapy’s ‘Screamager’ in there, albeit over a nerdy laptop beat and with over the top guitar shredding. So if you can prepare to lose your inhibitions, give up any hope of appearing cool then you might be in for an unexpected treat.
www.mclars.com

SB

 

The Loves - 'Three' (Fortuna Pop)

I just like this band, the same way I just like Cryptacize and My Drug Hell. And Black Lips. 2009 is looking a lot like the year GaragePunk, and by that I mean dictionary definition mid 60s Nuggets type bowlcut hair fuzzpedal guitar 96 Tears Russ Meyer poor boys born in a rumble GaragePunk, puts itself very firmly back into the mainstream. All those Mojo CD freebies are clearly having an effect on some highly impressionable young minds, and albums such as 'Three' are the result of such shenanigans.

The bubblegum stomp of album opener '1-2-3' either immediately grips your attention or has you shaving your head in despair, and I kept listening. The Loves keep things a bit tounge in cheek without ever letting matters slide into flimsy pastiche, and mainman Simon Stone is in fact a real early 70s popstar, sort of David Cassidy with stubble or a more wholesome Marc Bolan, and Robyn Hitchcock probably regrets turning down the opportunity to narrate 'Everybody Is In Love'. All that and a cover of 'You Don't Have To' by 60s obscurities The Beeds. The kids wanna frug, daddy-o. Official.

Jon Gordon

 

Jim Lockey / Oxygen Thief / Ben Marwood - 'exclamation at asterisk hash' (Broken Tail)

A collection of Berkshire based singer songwriters jointly release a nine track compilation. Definite air of competition around this lot, although it's mostly quite good natured. Jim Lockey and his mates Solemn Sun start things off with 'Waitress', which is a wordy tale of frustrations that keeps getting faster: ' she'll just selfishly sit there / and wait for you to save here life'. I reviewed Ben Marwood here a few months ago and 'Friendly Fire' expertly captures the intimacy of the pub gig circuit where Marwood and his associates have skilfully honed their craft: 'do what you like / and like what you do', sings Ben and he also makes a lively noise on his guitar, a master of the vocal/picking style that Bert Jansch was a touch too clever with way back when. Oxygen Thief aka Barry Dolan is at a slightly different gig though. 'There Can Be Only One' would easily translate into a full blown rock number, such is its frenetic structure, a barrage of 12 string powerchords : 'I'm sorry that seat is taken / and that's my air that you're polluting' runs a lyric and tune actually worthy of Dave Grohl.

Over the rest of the album we hear these acoustic performers utilise various instrumental additions, such as the slide guitar that gives Ben Marwood's 'I Will Breathe You In' an extra depth, while Jim Lockey's 'Boat Song' has some lively percussion to back it up, and Oxygen Thief sounds as if he's playing two guitars at once. The whole album has the spontaneous atmosphere of a lively busking session, and each of these performers could easily hold down an entire album on their own. So what are they waiting for? A proper record deal and a bigger audience, that's all.
http://www.myspace.com/brokentailrecords

Jon Gordon

 

Fact - Fact (Vagrant)

We reviewed the first single of this album in May and very little from that review has changed when listening to the album as a whole.

Overall the sound is polished and well produced, with a heavy presence of electronics. The vocals shift between melodic and heart felt to angry and shouty. They lyrics themselves probably show more of this bands Japanese origins than the music, each reading like a haiku in rhythmic but broken English which hints at saying something deeper whilst also sailing close to just being pretentious. Allowing the benefit of the doubt given that they’re writing in their second language I’ll accept the former in this instance.

Certainly as post-hardcore goes this is one of the more accessible offerings. It would be considered quite tame compared to some of the movements heavier contemporaries, whilst not being mellow enough to allow those other than devotees of the scene to enjoy this offering. Being neither betwixt or between it’s ultimately unlikely to satisfy either party.

Jim Johnston


 

Mouthwash - True Stories (Rebel Alliance Recordings)

I spend the odd weekend in London and this album sums up perfectly the soundtrack that should be playing in my head when I visit. It reflects London perfectly, not surprising given that Mouthwash are very much a London band. What is surprising is that a band that take inspiration from punk, Ragga and Ska can produce a sound which sounds so uniquely “London.”

It’s not an album I could say I enjoyed. Ultimately the sound doesn’t appeal to me, it’s a little too different and outside of my comfort zone, but then I would say the same of London down and I feel the same when wandering round their streets.

What is refreshing is the lack of moral message or higher purpose within this. It is simply a collection of songs about getting by day to day. It discusses the gritty side of life in the capital without seeking to glamorise it. Again, difficult to relate to given my upbringing in the leafy suburbs of Leeds, but the honesty and earnest graft of this album do come across.

If you like Ska/Punk/Ragga fusion, you’ll love this. If you don’t you should still give it a listen. Even if you don’t like it, you might just appreciate it…
www.myspace.com/mouthwashlondon

Jim Johnston

 

White Denim - Fits (Full Time Hobby)

There’s no point beating about the bush here, I fucking love this record.

The 2nd album release by Texan group White Denims which, with 12 tracks covered in just over 37 minutes, is another blast through the band’s repertoire.

Starting off like the bastard child of Hendrix and Jethro Tull, born straight into a birthing pool full of tequila, handed a guitar and sent off into the world, the album is as likeable as it is self indulgent and difficult. Which is quite a lot.

Take the track Sex Prayer. A two minute floating instrumental. Or Mirrored And Reverse, which comes to a complete and definite finish, before starting again without explanation or apology. Or opening track Radio Milk How Can You Stand It, which finishes as an entirely different song to the one it started as.

At times dirty rock and roll record, others more laid back, reflective, harmonious pop, it consistently ducks and weaves through it’s 40 minutes, words and music seemingly having no correlation and yet fit together so perfectly to be far more than the sum of its parts.

An awesome little record, worthy of many repeat listens.
http://www.myspace.com/bopenglish

Jim Johnston

 
 

Viva Stereo – Viva Fence (Much Better)

This is a bit of a tease really. BY the time you read this review you probably will already be unable to get a hold of this album so you will just have to trust me in telling you how good it is. Furthermore it is released to commemorate the Fence Records Homegame which has already taken place too – frustrating eh? But this is a fine testament to the work of the Fence Collective – a loose collaboration of artists from the Fife area, several of whom have featured heavily on Viva Stereo’s past albums.

It’s a bit of an unusual collection of remixes to be honest but I actually think I prefer it to the last studio album ‘Roar Lion Roar’. ‘Tourniquet’ with King Creosote and The Pictish Trail is a strange opener, all slow and brooding. Similarly the One Last Kiss remix of ‘I Don’t Know’ is kind of slow and droney but compelling all the same. But there’s also plenty of quirkier, upbeat tracks to keep the tempo up – the tinkling ‘Black Spot’, the warped ‘Come, See the View’, the stomping ‘Bad Blood’ and the Shamen-esque ‘Least Tired Too’.

But the band choose to close with a suitably oddball song in ‘The Bus That You Missed’ written by HMS Ginafore with its distant, eerie vocals which float dolefully across the speakers, disappearing into the night as quickly as your chance of ever owning this disc. I knew there were some perks about writing for Tasty.
www.myspace.com/vivastereo
www.fencerecords.com

SB

 

Screaming Mimi – Leap Into My Fervent Arms (Phantom Power)

There’s a lot of scruffy oiks in bands aren’t there. They turn up in their baggy t-shirts and dirty jeans and churn out their indie pop like they are singing into a hairbrush in their own bedroom. No effort at all. Not so Screaming Mimi who bring a much needed touch of glamour and drama to the scene. Frequently combining a wardrobe of sharp suits and velvet ball gowns (though thankfully not at the same time) Screaming Mimi have a gift for the theatrical and this permeates their music.

Aside from being the best band sharing a name with a second world war rocket, I’m pleased to report that Screaming Mimi are not afraid to collect together all their excellent previously released single within the guise of this album rather than knock out 13 inferior songs just for the sake of releasing new material. ‘Dorothy Millette’ and ‘Who Is Louise’ reprise a couple of these singles and get the album off to a rip-roaring start before the Morricone-inspired ‘Dry Bones’ throws up a taste of something different which is followed up by the similarly inspired ‘Tanti Auguri’. It’s probably the fast picked guitar lines that lend itself to this style but you also get the impression that in Leap Into My Fervent Arms, Screaming Mimi have been very comfortable in drawing nostalgic sounds together with their own unique style. There’s obvious areas where the theatricality seems to get the better of the quality of the songwriting – it’s almost like listening to a West End Musical score in places where it seems filler tracks have made their way onto the album (such as ‘Plug It Up!’ which showcases some demon Theremin control). There’s also a large element of music-noir and Haunted House fairground ridery (‘Bumblebee’ in particular’) – as songs I would not listen to them alone, definitely not as singles. But in punctuating the flow of the album as a whole it works well.

The album finishes strongly and although Loretta’s vibrato can begin to grate after a while, ‘Dirtypillowslip’ is a great outro signifying all the things that are great about Screaming Mimi – great harmonies, dark subjects dealt with in a bitter-sweet way and enough invention slipped into 4 minutes to keep even the most inattentive listener going.
www.myspace.com/screamingmimiband

SB

 

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us (Memphis Industries)

Ah, the wonderful Black Moth Super Rainbow. I feel a little bit funny about this – like a secret that only I knew about has been stolen and now the magic of it will be ruined. Oh well – that’s what happens when you are good I guess. The last two albums were out on Graveface but this one comes of the ever so slightly more corporate Memphis Industries.

I also noted that I wrote very kind and unusually literate words about previous albums ‘Start a People’ and ‘Lost, Picking Flowers in the Wood’. And it may be these very two albums which are the biggest weakness in ‘Eating Us’. ‘What you talking about fool?’ I hear you ask and well you’d might – I just said they were ace albums. Well it’s like this – what’s really going on with this third album that hasn’t already been done before on the previous records? It’s still a great record and if you were new to BMSR then ‘Eating Us’ is a perfectly good place to start. On the other hand, if you own the other two albums then this is very much more of the same. There’s still oodles of front man Tobacco’s vocoder and bags of trippy, squelchy drums and every song is a journey through childhood years of sunny days, hopelessly outdated electrical appliances and the hope of a better future – not easy things to evoke.

The press release also intimates that BMSR may have also abandoned their previous analogue-digital approach to recording whereby live sounds were recorded onto tape then chopped up and generally bastardised before being mixed back together digitally. This gave the previous albums a completely original glitch layered sounds that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone replicate. This hi-fi version of ‘Eating Us’ by comparison does seem just a bit cleaner, just a bit more standard than its predecessors. There is a much more uniform sound and the heavy use of vocoder will raise instant comparison with the likes of Air.

So maybe I was expecting too much. Or maybe I don’t need three very similar albums in my record collection. But by the end of a few late night listens in summer this all seems to make a lot more sense and the cold north European analytical approach melts away in a squishy soundscape that only BMSR can supply. Despite my best intentions to provide an objective viewpoint I just can’t help but love BMSR.
www.blackmothsuperrainbow.com

SB

 

Franz Ferdinand - Blood (Domino)

It’s often said that first impressions matter, so I think it’s only fair to give my first impression of ‘Blood’.
So Franz Ferdinand have come over all dub. There’s echoing, vocoder-processed samples of Alex Kapranos’ vocals, funky hooks, both electronic and guitar, and deep bass everywhere. Taken on face value, the producer Dan Carey has produced a supremely danceable album. From the reggae-tinged ‘If I Can’t Have You Then Nobody Can’ to the dub-ska of ‘Katherine Hit Me’, I found the album to be surprising and a welcome change from their usual output.
Then I did some research…

I hadn’t heard the album “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” and I was even less aware that double disc versions had been released with ‘Blood’, which is in essence a dub remix album of ‘Tonight’. The idea behind it is intriguing. Dan Carey was the producer of their ‘Tonight’ album and, as a remixer who has worked with dub heroes such as Lee Perry, the Mad Professor and newer acts such as Hot Chip, it is an interesting experiment to see what he would have done with the material in another musical style. And the results are successful. This is no hatchet job, where a producer comes in, adds some squelchy noises behind the original, bolts on some big beats and then claims a pile of cash. The songs have been deconstructed back to their essence and then built up again as dub tracks and as such stand alone successfully. Before I heard ‘Blood’ I had no idea what the originals sounded like and it has been an interesting retroactive experience to go back and piece together what has gone into making each track. The fusion of ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ and ‘No You Girls’ was one such piece of reverse detective work.

So, my first impression was good and the ‘second date’ had gone well and I think we’re going to keep seeing each other, but I think we have to at least air an issue that does detract from our flowering relationship. As with a lot of affiliations, the issue of money has reared its ugly head. This album was released with the original as a bonus disc so why does it now need to be put out as a standalone? It could be argued that, with all the publicity declaring that their album was experimenting with the dub sound, it was seen as a way of showing what the band and producer had in mind during the sessions, even if this wasn’t reflected on the album. But if this was the case, the bonus disc idea worked. The re-release of ‘Blood’ as a separate entity a few months later, with the standard bonus track (“Be Afraid”, an anaemic version of “Dream Again” that is easily the worst track on the album) smacks of a decision based on solely commercial criteria.

So, I’ve been out with ‘Blood’ a few times now, and having initially fallen for its charms I find myself unsure due to what I now know about it’s murky past. Do I forgive and forget? Can we work through this rough patch? I do hope so. It’d be silly to let a past indiscretion spoil a wonderful relationship.

Matt Latham

 

Jon Hopkins - Insides

When Conor Oberst released “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn”, the idea was supposed to be that the former represented a more traditional musical form, whilst the latter was more modernistic and electronic. As it turned out, there wasn’t as much difference between the two as people hoped, and what Bright Eyes tried to do over two companion albums, Jon Hopkins does here with only one.

It’s an odd blend, but it does work. If you take the two tracks, the opener ‘The Wider Sun’ and the title track ‘Wire’ you have the two extremes of the album. On the one hand, there are the mournful violins of the classical opening, on the other an aggressive, angry discordant electonica in the vein of Aphex Twin or Autechre. The bridging track of ‘Vessel’ achieves a mix of the two.

There is a strain of melancholy that runs through all the tracks, giving it an emotional through-line despite the disparate styles. ‘Small Memory’ is a beautifully melodic and moving piece played only on piano, while ‘Colour Eyes’ overlays the plaintive tapping of piano keys with abrasive, stabbing noises from a dystopian future. Both very different; both very moving.

That's not to say Hopkins keeps it all downbeat. ‘Light Through The Veins’, which is the current single, is a nine minute plus epic consisting of a smooth, rolling beats and the ambient synth sounds that drift dreamily over them. Apparently this is the track that convinced Coldplay to hire him as co-producer of their last album, but please don’t hold that against either him or the track. Mr Hopkins is obviously a talented man, who has produced an album that combines sweeping classical beauty with down and dirty aggressive electronica. No mean feat and don’t just take my word for it. A certain Brian Eno is a fan too, and is working with Jon Hopkins on the soundtrack for the film ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Peter Jackson. On the evidence of this, it should be one worth listening to.

Matt Latham

 

Junior Boys – Begone Dull Care (Domino)

I’m pretty sure the Junior Boys could have written a cracking song outlining my feelings about this, their third album. Their first two albums vibrated with tremulous vocals and synth-pop, underpinned with the feeling of cautious heartbreak. They were brilliant.

So who better to sum up the sense of understated disappointment I felt on listening to their new album? It’s tricky to write about as, I should stress, this is not a bad album. The opening track, ‘Parallel Lines’, with it’s throbbing beat and Prince-like vocals is easily as good as anything the band have produced before. ‘Dull to Pause’ is another standout, and even the single ‘Hazel’ works, although the chorus is scarily reminiscent of an early Take That single.
But overall you get the feeling of a band treading water. There’s nothing new here, which in itself wouldn’t be a crime, but there’s nothing to excite in the same way as ‘Birthday’ or ‘In the Morning. Even the tracks on previous albums that weren’t obvious ‘hits’ still had their own life, but here, aside from the three mentioned, I’d be hard pushed to remember any of the others. There’s the odd moment in certain tracks, such as the spiraling synth-loop towards the end of ‘The Animator’, that grab your attention but then it’s lost again. And then there’s a track like ‘What It’s For’ which is a pale imitation of ‘First Time’ from the second album ‘So This Is Goodbye’.

So could the Junior Boys still produce a track of such heartbreaking beauty, fused with electro-funk beats to sum up my opinion of their latest? I hope so, and that it’s on their return-to-form follow up.

Matt Latham

 

Christina Courtin - s/t (Nonesuch)

I heard Feist on the radio today. You know that '1-2-3-4' song, the one that was a car advert or something? Christina Courtin and her songs are of a similar stamp, except a bit less eccentric and while it's quite possible that Courtin is actually one of the crowd of agile bodypoppers in the advert, her songs are definitely less dippy and a bit more focused than what I've actually heard of Feist, whom none of us would ever have heard had it not been for that TV ad.

Christina Courtin is a recent graduate of the Julliard school, a renowned New York performing arts academy. I remember reading that one of the original members of Manfred Mann went there, and I put together a list of people I think might've also gone there which includes Beck, Lee Ranaldo, Walter Lure, Moe Tucker, Tom Verlaine ... probably none of them though. One name I do recognise on the album sleeve credits is Jim Keltner, doubtlessly the same Jim Keltner who recorded an album with Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts a year or two back. Christina Courtin moves in exalted circles, and the album is itself an easy on the ear collection of folksy meanderings which you could play whenerver your chums drop in for a barbie without anyone complaining much, in fact I quite like it. I wouldn't put money on her recording a follow-up album though.
http://www.christinacourtin.com

Jon Gordon

 

Arthur And Martha - 'Navigation' (Happy Robots)

Compared to a list of well known electronic greats, says the press release. First track 'Autovia' does sound a bit like Add N To X, except with a breathy eurofemme vocal and some chunky metallic percussion. Who else really likes electronica? If you do, then Navigation will doubtlessly press most if not all of your buttons in approximately the right order. If you need a bit of persuasion though, you might find Arthur And Martha (or Adam and Alice, as their mums know them) a teeny bit tiresome. Yearning for Weimar decadence but stuck in a pub in Sutton, A+M somehow lack the fashionista touch that's kept Ladytron within our attention spans for the last four or so years. And not many people will really want to buy an album whose sleeve features a pair of lost looking toddlers. They just won't. Tell a policeman if you need to, Arthur and Martha.
http://happyrobotsrecords.blogspot.com

Jon Gordon

 

Birdeatsbaby - Here She Comes A-Tumblin'

Every now and again, and I wish it happened more often, I get to hear a genuinely original, inventive, innovative and spectacularly entertaining album, and when that album is the work of a bunch of virtual unknowns I am left with little option but to cast off my usual veneer of cynicism and transmit my enthusiasms to a possibly less than persuadeable audience.

Birdeatsbaby are a five piece whose line up includes cello, violin and acoustic piano. Their songs are fantastically arranged paens to love, loss, teenage debauchery, self harm, egomania, raw hate and unbearable, untranslateable longings. Their music combines the ribald freakshow excesses of vintage Tom Waits, the rhythmic intensities of Janacek, even the stagey west end glamour of Lloyd Webber. 'Here She Comes A-Tumblin'' is unclassifiable, entirely lacking in self conciousness and it overawes me. Nothing like enough people will ever hear it, and that saddens me. But I've heard it, and it's probably my favourite album of 2009. Actually, I know it is.
http://www.birdeatsbaby.co.uk/

Jon Gordon

 

Black Sabbath - The Best of Black Sabbath

This one is fairly self-explanatory and you might have already picked up this album or an equivalent. However for the newer inductees to VH1’s second most influential band of all time it serves as a fitting and for the most part all-encompassing collection of songs from the band’s Ozzie-era.

Many fans would call this era the finest of the band's career, as whilst Ronnie James Dio was no doubt a phenomenal vocalist Ozzie always knew how to belt out a tune and his stage presence must have been missed initially upon his split with the band. Undoubtedly some of the band’s most recognised songs ‘Iron Man’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and their ilk were from this era and they all enter into this ‘Best of’.

Therefore whilst a cash-in from the word go, this compilation is strong enough, boasts enough of their best songs and Black Sabbath are influential and renowned enough to get away with it. A periodical plundering of their back catalogue by record labels, (a highly similar edition came out in 2000 and went Gold in 2003) is both unavoidable and acceptable, as Black Sabbath, whilst by today’s standards not particularly revolutionary, kick-started much of the British and Worldwide Heavy Metal scene and many of today’s biggest bands in that genre would no doubt fail to exist without them.
www.black-sabbath.com

Chris Sharpe

 

Placebo – Battle for the Sun (PIAS)

For such a major band I’m a little bit embarrassed that I know relatively little about Placebo. I’d heard the album Meds which was little more than alright and I might have pillaged ex-flatmates’ CD collections for a few illegally burned singles off previous albums but I guess I’d always considered them little more than Smashing Pumpkins-lite – a bit too poppy. And on first listen to ‘Battle for the Sun’ nothing much seemed to have changed – few stand-out moments, some painful lyrical puns (like ‘a heart that hurts is a heart that works’ – groan) but generally an amenable listen. I don’t know about you but I look for something a little more than amenity from my music.

And so it went on a few more times as the background music to the day – while working, washing up, flossing my teeth. Toes were tapped and head nodded slightly in approval. And now that it comes to writing about it I am still probably none the wiser. I couldn’t instantly name you one track that I want to expand on but I could say that as an album it is a thoroughly thorough piece of work recorded and mixed thoroughly. There’s a very compressed sound to the production which makes it all sound very neat and tidy but does kill off a bit of vitality. Fortunately Molko’s distinctive vocals cut through this mix but there are times of excessive warbling during tracks like ‘Battle for the Sun’ when perhaps you would wish they didn’t.

It was a brave move by Placebo to take on a new drummer (Steve Forrest) and not look for major label support, instead putting out this album themselves; and it seems to have paid off. It may not push out the musical envelope particularly far but it is still an accomplished work, probably stronger than the preceding ‘Meds’. There’s a bit of a tendency to verge into the realms of ‘epic song’ a few times when the shorter, more immediate route seems slightly more powerful (the punchy ‘Breathe Underwater’ far outstripping the penultimate track ‘Come Undone’ in effectiveness) but overall there is little to fault about this record. Good luck to them.
www.placeboworld.com
watch interview and pre-production footage from 'Battle for the Sun'

SB

 

Liechtenstein - Survival Strategies In A Modern World (Fraction Discs)

Sweden has contributed much to the world at large. Flat pack furniture. Volvo’s. A consistently excellent quality of gentleman’s film of the sort enjoyed by a certain MP’s husband on account. And contributions to the music world as eclectic and varied as any nation on earth.

And so we have this effort from a Swedish all girl trio named after a land-locked, German speaking, principality. And the sound of the band could be no further from the images the band name conjures.

For lack of a more encompassing genre title, I can only refer to this as ‘Operatic Country’. Lilting, wafting vocals woven into melodic and wandering instrumentals, this is a gloriously original, cool and slightly kooky 23 minute journey to be recommended.
www.myspace.com/liechtensteinia

Jim Johnston

 
 

Kidnapper Bell - The Great Outdoors (Stressed Sumo Records)

Chuckatabum… tish! That is the sound of a human drum on track three, The Way It Goes, of this debut album from ¾ Birmingham, ¼ Washington DC band Kidnapper Bell. Unfortunately, the Police Academy stylee human generated sound effects start and end with that.

This is pretty standard bass-driven EMO fare which constantly teeters on the edge of falling into the teenage angst template as presented by My Chemical Romance and their ilk. That they do it no worse than MCR is credit to them, whether that makes them worth a listen really depends upon where you stand on MCR in the first place.

Formulaic fast guitar, slow guitar, heartfelt, wailed lyrics, each track creates a big sound without ever really saying anything and you get the distinct impression that they don’t really mean much of what they’re imparting.

It’s certainly not terrible but it’s also nothing different and nothing you’ve not heard before.
www.myspace.com/kidnapperbell

Jim Johnston

 

Isa & The Filthy Tongues - 'Addiction' (Circular)

Recorded in 2006, released in 2008, finding its way onto our stereos in 2009; no-one could accuse Isa & The Filthy Tongues of rushing things. After all, if you were the songwriting mainstay of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, the actual winners of the 'Most Underrated Scottish Band Of The 80s & 90s' award, and if you still are Ian Metcalfe, songwriter, then you are perhaps entitled to do things entirely your own way. 'Addiction' is more than five years in the making.

The album opens with an altogether too familiar bassline rumble. As anyone who ever read my reviews for Edinburgh's Is This Music? magazine might recall, I cannot f...ing stand J.. D...... . But things take a rapid turn away from mere Curtisry, as the guitars weave altogether more intricate patterns that more resemble an inspired jam round at Robert Smiths mansion. And the toothsome yankee vocal threw me a bit until I discovered that vocalist Stacey Chavis is in fact from Oregon, not Penicuik. I know I'm too late with the 'Stacey Is A Chav' jokes , but all that's really missing amongst the 15 tracks on the expanded edition of the album is a properly tounge in cheek visitation to Ramoneville. What we do get to hear are some oddly country inspired metallic thudalongs, like if Depeche Mode were from Tennesee, fronted by Debbie Harry.

I'd like to tell you what my favourite 'Addiction' songs are, but my one real gripe with the album is the practically illegible tracklisting. This means that the albums final song, which starts off a lot like 'Spirit In The Sky' before sullenly developing a claustrophobic, half cracked momentum entirely its own, will for the moment remain anonymous. Isa & The Filthy Tongues is a name you remember, though.
http://www.isaandthefilthytongues.com/

Jon Gordon

 

Anarbor – Free Your Mind (Hopeless Records)

There is formulaic pop-punk that’s catchy and bright and brings something new to the genre even though it’s formulaic, and then there’s formulaic pop-punk that does absolutely nothing, except show the band up as pale imitators of bands who are just doing it better. Yes, Anarbor sound like labelmates All Time Low, and yes, the stated influences of Jimmy Eat World and Third Eye Blind can clearly be heard, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually any good. I know I have absolutely no right to be saying this, since I like all kinds of atrocious rubbish that comes under the modern interpretation of ‘pop-punk’, but what this album is lacking that so many others do so well is catchy choruses. If they had a few, I’d like this album.

Having said all this, I must admit to liking the last song on this mini-album, which is called “Always Dirty, Never Clean”. It’s a diatribe against the music industry and selling out, and I like it a lot. It includes the lyric “I'll sell my songs, but never my soul, and what the fuck happened to rock and roll?”, which is funny. It is still lacking a catchy chorus though.

It’s not a bad album and it’s well-produced and proficient enough. If that’s enough, then that’s enough.

Rebecca McCormick

 

Telley - 'I'm The Big Sister Now' (Hitback)

All too often, albums such as this get bogged down in campy retro dawdlings, with the ironic videos taking precedence over the music and, let's face it, you need to actually remember the 1970s if you're going to use the well-worn iconography of spacehoppers and stripey jumpers to any real effect.

Telley are too competent, too committed, just too darn good at the behind-the bike-sheds-in-stereo schtick that will always provoke Pulp comparisons. Their cover of Spark's 'Get In The Swing' is an unrecognisable improvement on the original, and 'Bad Boy, Good Girl' is a frankly heartbreaking reminiscence of torn blazers and nicotine stains, a song which with its erratic changes of key reveals some extremely clever songwriters at work. This carries over into the production; rather than replicate the doomy reverberations of classic 60s numbers, tracks such as 'Good At What You Do' posess the authentic Stock Aitken Waterman sheen that characterised Pulp's best work, and would almost certainly chart if re-recorded by (displays ignorance of current chart scene) Will Young (?)

So is 'NITBS' the album 'This Is Hardcore' nearly was? Telley themselves are slightly elusive when it comes down to their actual motives, and that is the Eiffel Tower on the cover and Jarvis lives in France now, so what if this is an actual Pulp album? Real pop music for unreal people, at any rate.
http://www.telley.co.uk

Jon Gordon

 
 

Various: Listening Is Easy - Something In Construction Label Sampler (SIC)

Something In Construction are the future of pop. Not just any old pop mind - only the most inspiring, genre straddling, feverishly fantastic music can cut this sampler. Sequenced as a summer mixtape, this showcases some of the very best musical talent of the 21st Century.

The Rest’s epic ‘Walk On Water’ is a solid foundation to this sampler with fragile vocals and beautiful lyrics laid neatly over a truly inciting drum beat. Leading quite perfectly into recent NME radar darlings, The Gay Blades ‘Having Done Nothing’, keeping up that stomping drum beat with dirty stop-start guitars not even pausing for breath with a sing-a-long chorus.

A complete change of musical direction with an 80’s revival led by Air France with ’Never Content (FRIEND re-edit)’, so unashamedly eighties with it’s maracas and floor toms it’s actually cool. And for those amongst us who have ever wondered what Sega game music would sound like if it collided full on with a spaceship full of guitars and a nice English boy, wonder no longer for Akira The Don is here with his scorcher ‘We Are Not Alone’. Fol Chen ‘Cable TV’ is super sweet candy dipped electronica that makes excellent use of computer generated beat-boxing.

One track that really stands out on this sampler is Gentleman Auction House‘s ‘ABCDEFGraveyard’. Starting with a smack of attitude and a stonking drum pattern, it melts into a summer classic, stealing a shiny disco guitar from The Jackson 5; this is euphoria central.

The techno sway of the middle tracks does not go unnoticed with the Memory Tapes ‘Bicycle’, The Silent League’s ‘Yours Truly 2095’ so heavily influenced by ELO’s ‘Horace Wimp’ and The Bugles ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ you honestly think you have gone back in time for three minutes and nine seconds. To be honest, Spinnerette’s ‘Distorting A Code’ sounds monotonous and slow alongside all of these exciting tracks, seeing as it is followed by Hopewell with ‘Stranger’. A track to ride a horse to, a galloping beat and a fab bassline, with a definate Kasabian-esque quality as it launches into a guitar solo that uses so much distortion and feedback, it melts the face clean off. Army Navy proves themselves competent with ‘Silvery Sleds’ being a stunning summer afternoon acoustic track simply because it makes you feel so goddamn good. The Leisure Society are Noah and The Whale with more rock ‘n’ roll, but that is in no way a bad thing. ‘Give Yourself A Fighting Chance’ is an appealing summery effort, a chiming guitar teamed with ukulele finished with a sprinkling of tambourine and ‘la-la-la’s’.

Everything, Now! are sunshine in earphone format preaching the joy of life to all. ‘Save A Life With Chocolate Sprite’ has a cheeky brass part with a saxophone working it’s way through a jingly tambourine and a weaving bass line teamed with an equally jingly guitar. Oh, and don’t forget that gospel choir…

Closing on a techno dream of Animal Collective vs. Frankie Knuckles ‘Your Love My Girls’ making the dance floor filler of ‘My Girls’ even more infectiously danceable. Delorean’s uplifting ‘Indio/Deli’ has enough beat dropping to urge even the shyest to want to dance. A disappointing effort from Air France follows, with ’No Excuses’ an ATD remix of a Joey2Tits remix. It has so much going on it’s almost impossible to listen to and is (dare I say it?) atrociously painful. A hidden extra fixes all that with an untitled track that features ‘Various Artists’ but has similarities with The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s new material starring synths and gritty female vocals, it is exceedingly good to close a summer of music.

Something In Construction are building a future of music, at times it is messy with too many ideas in one place, but other times it hit’s the palette just right. This is a summer mixtape to be reckoned with; I beg you to download and dance your summer away.

Eloise Quince

 
 

LECUBE - 'From Here To Now' (Megaphone)

Toulouse had a thriving gig circuit until an accident at a chemical plant resulted in the many of the city's nightspots closing down. From the ashes of this once thriving cultural centre comes Lecube, and the eight tracks that make up 'From Here To Now'. I need to say that reading the PR for this one had me reaching for the nearest copy of Metal Hurlant, seeking out a story set in a dystopian near future irradiated wasteland inhabited only by a bloke with a guitar and his robot girlfriend, but actually listening to 'From Here To Now' is a far more reassuringly human experience than the write up led me to expect, with barely the click of a metronome let alone a geiger counter disturbing Julien Barabgallo's thoughtfully presented melodies.

Simultaneously laid back and edgy, 'From Here To Now' sounds superb, the lo-fi template stood neatly on its head with a subtly powerful production that avoids sliding into either overdramatic bombast or two dimensional tweeness. And while the musicianship is well mannered, it's hardly tame. Lecube does seem to want to cram an awful lot into just eight songs though, and his cover of a Beatles track - 'I've Just Seen A Face' ( from the Help! album) has a practically virtuoso guitar introduction that, while it adds much to what must have been and probably still is a highly entertaining busking set, also highlights the competing influences at work here - those of folk rock and harder edged psychedelia. Over eight tracks, Lecube doesn't quite resolve the range of influences into one coherent overall sound, and 1st track 'Before I Die' and 7th track, the instrumental 'Creatures' sound like the work of two very different bands. It'd be a very boring old world if everything sounded the same though.
http://www.myspace.com/ilovelecube

Jon Gordon