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albums - july 2009


Dinosaur Jr – Farm (Play it Again Sam)

Gazillionth album from the well known States-side slackers, and the second since the reformation of the original line-up with Lou Barlow and Murph.

Has J given up the guitar and moved on from grunge with an album accompanied by a xylophone playing cocker spaniel? Of course not, this is a Dinosaur Jr album. Croaky Neil Young vocals, extended guitar solos, and general loudness are the Standard Operating Procedure, and, starting with “Pieces” it goes on to emulate most other Dinosaur Jr albums. In some cases this isn’t even subtle, “Friends” and “See You” rather worryingly sounding like rejects from 1993’s “Where You Been”. Hard to see what Barlow is getting out of this reunion either, being that his contributions are confined to “Your Weather”, and closing track “Imagination”.

That said, there are some outstanding songs on this album. “Said The People” with its surf guitar intro and thumping tom motif, and “Plans” with its touching, wizened motif and lullaby vocal.

So, some musical complacency creeping through, but they have been in this game for a long time so at this stage of their career, it could arguably be expected. There still is enough gas in the tank for them to come up with moments of brilliance.

Rory McGregor


Jón Pór Birgisson & Alex Somers – Riceboy Sleeps (EMI)

The first album release proper for Sigur Rós vocalist Birgisson and friend Alex Somers, who have been providing audio landscapes to accompany their artwork exhibitions for the last couple of years.

Tracks like “Indian Summer” with its poignant, funereal mood are stunningly beautiful, and you really are led to contemplate the bigger things in life as a result. Elsewhere, the Kopavogsdaetur Choir lend an added splendour to proceedings, most notably on “Boy 1904”. “Sleeping Giant” - a recording of a sailing ships rigging creaking gently in the wind with a hint of organ to guide it - is probably the most serene thing I’ve heard in a long time.

But its emotional intensity makes it destined to be one of those albums you never listen to very often because you’re never really quite in the right mood. If you did sit down to listen to this, chances are you’d have great difficulty in getting out of your chair for an hour or so after it finishes, such is the cumulative effect. And that’s where it has to watch itself – while Birgisson in his day job has no problem bridging the gap between rock and ambient, this album is but a skip and a jump from the sort of material sold along with incense sticks and flotation tanks in the local new age shop.

Relaxing. Profound. Intense. Buy it and keep it safe for those occasions when there’s nowhere left to run.

Rory McGregor


Subkicks – Threes, Fives & Sevens (SNS Records)

This’ll be lad-rock, absolutely no mistaking it. And being the starkly polarising thing this particular little genre can be, those not of that persuasion should probably skip to the next review now. All the well – worn clichés about ‘swagger’, ‘attitude’ etc. are quite evident here and unfortunately the press release actually has gone as far as using the phrase ‘anthemic indie-rock’. Hang on a sec; I’ve just seen the phrase ‘edgy indie-rock’ too. That’s quite a subtle variation there. Gents, shoot your PR.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t run for the hills clutching your Frightened Rabbit records, the debut album from these West Midland scallies is littered with all the hallmarks of a sound that doffs its cap to the nineties (Primal Scream, Oasis), whilst taking in a few of their noughties peers (Doves, Delays).

Oddly, some songs seem to be sonically arranged in pairs. So, we have opener “Forminas Star” belching out its fuzz bass burp on the way to the bar and “Sirens” both owing a heavy debt to Kasabian, while “Last Time” and “Do You Feel Loved” sound like New Order tracks circa “Waiting for the Siren’s Call”.

Attempts to stick a dancy beat under proceedings invariably fall flat on their face; “Under the Barricade” manages to sound more dated than the Soup Dragons entire back catalogue and ballads like “Rewind Me” offers few surprises; neither alas do Matt Bellamy’s vocals. Falling as they do somewhere between Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds and Bernard Sumner, they manage to retain the tedium of the former without ever approaching the defiant fragility of the latter.

Things do however get better on the latter half. And when they forget about everything else and get on with it being a straightforward guitar band, they can be quite good, Eucalyptus, Paper Thin probably being the best things on this album.

All in all though, it’s an indecisive, frustrating exercise. The musical equivalent of your girlfriend trying on her entire wardrobe before a night out and never being entirely she made the right choice in the end.



Great Northern - 'Remind Me Where The Light Is' (Eenie Meenie)

Are there two or four of them? First track 'Story' is a lot of noise anyway, a pounding drumbeat backing strident guitars and a two-way boy/girl vocal, a song that manages to simultaneously recall BRMC, the Mary Chain and any number of similar duos. Keeping the tunes uncomplicated if hardly simplistic and adding some echoing percussion that never detracts from the instrumentation, the temperatures are quite definitely on the low side over the eleven tracks on Great Northern's second album. Perhaps the nearest comparison here are the Raveonettes, except that where that band focused on a celebration of retro stylings, Great Northern are aiming at some very different and less obvious targets. Vocalist Rachel Stolte chooses to avoid overdramatising her voice, softening the harder edges of Solon Bixler's guitars as she does so, and this makes for a slightly unusual juxtaposition of influences.

There is a very definite collision of styles on display here. 'Fingers' starts off with a gritty buzzsaw guitar that leads into an unashamed pop ballad constructed along epic lines and with the instruments doing the swooping and howling, not Rachel Stolte's voice. These are modern day FM power balladeers whose sense of self regard never quite gets in the way of their music and underplaying the electronic trickery while equally unafraid of proper melodies, Great Northern tread a tightrope strung between classic songwriting and hipster cred, with the results just on the gentler side of spectacular. Slower numbers such as 'Stop' deftly avoid sliding into sentimentality, while the bigger songs won't make too many demands on your listening attentions. Really, Great Northern don't put any of their feet wrong here, and if that makes them sound a bit restrained or even formulaic then listen more carefully as their combination of edgy invention and smoothly structured song arrangements gives this album a dash of originality that has had them picking up plaudits from an ever increasing number of sources, and deservedly so. Aural air conditioning for the Summer Of Heat.

Jon Gordon


Crazy Arm - Born to Ruin

When you think of ounk rock albums you usually imagine angry guys with mohawks jumping around shouting. In the modern era this is not always the case. A prime example of this are Plymouth based Crazy Arm. Using melodic vocals on top of heavy riffs, they make a new unique type of punk rock.

The music they play is very much in the vain of Against Me, by not using the stereotypical shouting lyrics of punk bands. It may be a take on punk that is not to everyone's taste, but there is no desputing what good musicians the band are. The great thing about 'Born to Ruin' is that none of the songs sound the same, they all have a touch of individuality about them. it makes the album a little unusual and is almost like a breath of fresh air. 'Born to Ruin' is not going to be one of those albums that everyone is rushing to buy, but it is definitly worth having a listen. The songs change dramatically in sound, from the country sound of Blind Summit to the more traditional punk rock sound of Reassure Me. Having such a wide range to their sound that makes you just want to listen to certain songs on this album, and it slowly grows on you.

It is hard to put your finger on, but there is something about Crazy Arm that makes them appealing to the listener. It would not be a suprise if in the next year or so, Crazy Arm will be popping up all across the country. 'Born to Ruin' is by no means a must buy album, but if you do buy it then it will be money well spent.

Tim Birkbeck


Slow Club - Yeah So (Moshi Moshi)

After a slew of well-received singles and last year's EP, this is actually Slow Club's first long-player, which is surprising in view of their considerable popularity. Of course, this doesn't automatically mean their album will be good: after all, BBC shit-com 'My Family' is also very popular.

First things first: existing fans of Slow Club will absolutely lap this up. Cute heartbreak songs, campfire arrangements, boy can't sing too well, girl's got a pretty voice; surely it's only a matter of time before they're advertising washing powder. The album doesn't deviate from this formula one jot, so if you've enjoyed their previous releases you'll positively cream your pants over this. But is 'Yeah So' really any good? Well... it's okay.

For starters, it's too consciously cute. Everything has been written from a cute point of view, meaning you'd quite happily throttle them by the time track 4 kicks in. And whereas most of the writing is solid (if ultimately uninspiring) some of the songs don't feel fully formed. Opening track 'When I Go' is a novelty throwaway, 'I Was Unconscious It Was a Dream' fails to get going despite it's 4 minute duration, and the only notable part of 'Because We're Dead' is the bit lifted directly from The Beautiful South's 'A Little Time' (actually, now I'm thinking about it, Rebecca's voice is remarkably similar to Briana Corrigan's). 'Giving Up On Love' shows what Slow Club are capable of if they'd just try that little bit harder; it's a gorgeous, carefree, sing-a-long riot, displaying a melodic maturity lacking elsewhere on the album. It's been granted a full arrangement too, which really brings out the fun of the song.

I'm probably being a little harsh here, after all this a perfectly nice, perfectly pleasant collection of no-brainer songs that's ideal to do the washing up to. It's just that we need new bands to lead the fight against mediocracy, not embrace it with a sloppy wet kiss.

Jon Groves


Freeland - Cope (Marine)

Electronica on epic levels? Everything about this record appears huge, whether it be the whopping bass line, tearing synth or hyper active drum beat. Huge stars have collaborated on this record as well, boasting names such as Joey Santiago of the Pixies, Jerry Casale of Devo, Twiggy Ramirez of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson not to mention Tommy Lee and Brody Dalle. This is huge, but unfortunately extremely repetitive.

‘Do You!’ opens the affair with buckets of energy and bouncing beats but unfortunately the repetition grabs hold of your throat refusing to let go. The only lyric being ’do you think you can stay?’, you being to seriously consider if you can last the entirety of the album.

Luckily, ‘Under Control’ hit’s the spot more comfortably, a stomping dance floor classic in the making by means of warped and distorted guitars, a bass to blow your head off and most excitable talking piano. Harmonies take this song to another level, bringing an element of E.L.O to the show as it dances about in your ear cavity. ‘Strange Things’ reverts back to the repetition, but that can be forgiven slightly by the fact that it oozes a filthy bass line that no-one can avoid dancing too. ‘Bring It’ has a drum beat so vicious that it destroys the inside of the ear and the laser synth cuts deep into the brain. Brilliant. This is what Hot Chip would sound like if they were tipped upside down, shaken and left dirtily dishevelled.

‘Mancry’ is the height of absolute egotistical indulgence that provides the listener with nothing but boredom. Reverb and a drum beat is no excuse for a song and never will be. ‘Borderline’ gets everything back of track, a face-paced and adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster of bass drums, stormy guitars and sombre synths lead by Brody Dalle’s signature whine.

‘Rock On’ sounds like a slow BM Linx track, all of the instrumental elements of a rock and roll stadium classic slowed down and twisted into electro weaponery. ‘Silent Speaking’ takes horrific music that is played in most department store lifts and Bowie‘s embrace of bizarre space music as inspiration which ends up in a pretty abysmal product. It seems that after this, ‘Cope’ takes a turn for the worst with the outlandish ‘Best Fish Tacos In Encinada’ just being plain ridiculous, with the same pulsations and synthesizers repeating themselves. Follower ‘Only A Fool’ sounds like a confused mess of the Human League and Adam and the Ants. ‘Morning Sun’ is a yawn of a tune, not sounding to completely dissimilar to ‘Best Fish Tacos In Encinada’.

Closing on ‘Wish I Was Here’, you begin to count your lucky stars that you are soon to be entirely absent as the last wave of duplicated drums and synths hits you, this time with some monotonous vocals to match.
Some gems shine brightly amongst the dullness of this album, mainly ‘Under Control’, ‘Rock On’ and ‘Borderline’. Apart from those, not a very memorable article which disappoints as it was set up to be colossal enough to have reached the stars.

Eloise Quince


Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous (Full Time Hobby)

What a rarity; ten tracks that span over fifty minutes. What on earth is the world coming to, especially the “pop” world as the CD is labelled.

If this is what pop music is becoming, then I'm going to have to stop avoiding it. Hardly pop – more of a generic slightly rocky, slightly country feel, but certainly listenable. Imagine if you will, that Noah & The Whale weren't so half-arsed and their songs had a bit of drive, and you'll arrive at a sound similar to that of Malcolm Middleton. Thick textured soundscapes featuring all the instruments you'd expect, and a deep Scottish vocal rumbling over the top. Considering the songs don't seem to get anywhere, you don't notice that each one lasts about five minutes, and it isn't until the third track “Carry Me” that something in your head goes PING and you realise that Malcolm Middleton was one half of Arab Strap. I personally found Arab Strap a bit all over the place, but here Middleton has found some linearity to his work, and, yeah, I'm sure that although this won't get much radio play besides obscure late night shows, it's certainly worth a listen.

Thom Curtis


Alex Gomez – Love, Sex & Drugs

I knew from the outset, when it took me about five minutes trying to break the cellophane wrapping to even get to the CD, that this wasn't going to tickle my pickle. It was a sign from the God(s) and all celestial beings that I should put it down and go and put the kettle on.

However, I persisted, and came to the conclusion that Alex Gomez is a man with too much time on his hands, who couldn't find anyone to be in a band with him because he insisted on both playing guitar and singing, when he can only do the first with any degree of talent. His 'music' is a pathetic combination of distorted blues guitar and tuneless vocal; with every single track saying exactly the same thing. It's all about sex and drugs surprisingly, and I'm just wondering how many more records he is going to release (yeah this is the fifth,) before he realises that breaking taboos to be 'down with the kids' isn't remotely cool, and even if it was, I don't know any kids worth getting down with that would listen to this trash.

Thom Curtis


Sixty Watt Bayonets – Pounding Hearts, Fighting Words (Broken Tail)

Musically, Sixty Watt Bayonets have got the edge, the tone, the beats, and the overall oomph to get you moving your feet from dusk until dawn. However, at the front of it all, is a piercing grating horrible (female?) vocal that almost makes me want to throw up. And I've no doubt, that if it wasn't for that mess at the front of it all, Sixty Watt Bayonets would get a similar amount of airplay to the Wombats.

Although their songs don't have silly little hooks that get stuck in your head, they've got some groove going on. But sadly I can't mute that tart up front, and thus I can't listen. It's often a given that albums where every song averages two minutes is a waste of your time, and this is no different. It was close, but no cigar.

Thom Curtis


Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

Dirty Projectors is the project of Dave Longstreth; with, apparently, a very Henry VIII attitude to the rest of the line up. The current line up features three other musicians, two of which are female, however in the past seven years, spanning eight other albums, he's gone through over ten other musicians. This would probably be down to the fact that his music is all over the place, are arguably one of the most frustrating things to listen to. It is comprised of your regular drum guitar bass set up, and there are some mesmorising female harmonies dotted about, but the speed changes and lack of linearity make the record a real ear-ache. Kudos for trying to be “out there,” but I'm quite glad it's out there, and I'm in here. This could be a fantastic experience dosed up on a mystical cocktail of class-A drugs, but I'm not willing to fund such an adventure just to see if it's at all possible to enjoy this album.

Thom Curtis


Asa Ransom - Asa Ransom

First impressions of Asa Ransom’s self-titled long player? Nice song titles, nice packaging, terrible band photo, terrible name (didn’t Asa Ransom used to present ‘That’s Life’?).

The opening song ‘Man With A Tuba And A Wife' didn't fill me with too much excitement, either. It’s all a bit "generic indie" and apart from a couple of scratchy guitar effects, it sounds too much like ‘The Rascals’ for my liking. Ho hum.

From this point on though, things start to become a good deal more interesting. 'Crystal' is a notable improvement on the first track, featuring some nifty guitar work and some very accomplished drumming. And ‘Strangeways In A Pale Of Splendor' has a strong, a-tonal Sonic Youth presence, which is always very welcome.

Fourth song 'The Luck Of Stoney Bowes' is clearly the best thing on the album and deserves a paragraph all to itself. Dipping into fairly non-standard territory, it features some lovely tinkling piano, akin to Bowie's 'Lady Grinning Soul'. And what's the singer doing? Is he deliberately singing like he's got a mouthful of marbles? How utterly ace.

Although not quite up to the standard of ‘The Luck Of Stoney Bowes’, the remaining 3 tracks still manage to keep the quality bar raised nice and high. Final track ‘12 Mortal Men’ gets a special mention for sounding exactly like a ska version of 'Le lieutenant! Prenez garde' from Carmen, which is odd to say the least.

And that's it. Only 7 songs, only 25 minutes, but a thoroughly enjoyable work nonetheless. Asa Ransom are a band with some excellent ideas and some damn fine musicians, and they've gone and created a very satisfying debut. Now if they'd only do something about that bloody name...

Jon Groves


Ape School - Ape School

Ape School is the moniker of a freakishly-talented chap by the name of Michael Johnson. And judging by his seft-titled debut album, this fellow sure knows what he's doing.

Lets start with the recording: absolutely amazing attention to detail throughout. Stick a pair of headphones on and you lose track of the seemingly endless array of sounds, which swirl around your brain as if being stirred by a cerebral wooden spoon. And the quality of the recording and mixing is absolutely flawless as well, but I'm guessing you already saw that coming.

Although he not the greatest singer in world, Mr Johnson has an extremely versatile voice which is altered to suit the songs: in the first four songs alone you've got Gary Numan ('Wail To God'), Brian Wilson ('Did What I Did'), and a somehow-not-rubbish Bono ('My Intention').

And what of the songs themselves? Admittedly on the first play they blur into one long dreamy mush, but this is due to the dense way they've been presented, not sub-standard songwriting. Like the best albums, more and more is revealed with every play, and little by little, the razor-sharp melodies start to slice through the soundscapes like a scalpel through a ripe melon.

I know I'm gushing a bit here, but this really is damn good. And remember folks, this is the work of just one solitary, insignificant gentlemen (albeit one with an array of analogue synths and a bucketful of talent). If I was wearing a hat, I'd be taking it off to Michael Johnson and this primate pseudonym right now.

Jon Groves


That Fucking Tank - Tanknology (Gringo)

Oh, this starts pretty goooood. Ignore the awful name, admire the inner sleeve art and the Don Caballero-esque song titles ('Keanu Reef', 'John Faheyshanu', 'Dave Grolsch') and the 'it starts like Battles then becomes more of a noise-rock affair then sporadically regains coherence but yr feet don't care'. Sitting somewhere between Holy Fuck and Hella, it's noisy, it's shaded abrasively and, well, okay, sometimes I want to get rid of some of the riffs (on, like, 'Keanu Reef'), but then they do get rid of some of the riffs, but then it sounds all 'disco' in a bit of a 'next step on from the indie disco' way. If you like Hella, this is 'hella' good, too.

Phil Coales


The Casual Terrorist - I Wish I Was Dust (Pumpkin)

'This Universe Terrifies Me' is like a Jeffrey Lewis song set in Newcastle. It really is a very New York anti-folk thing. The guitar: see Jeff's 'City and Eastern Songs'. The 'am I going to die - hang on, I might, actually; oh well' sentiment: 'Anxiety Attack'. The mode of time-lapse story-telling: 'Back When I was 5'. The art work, the poster that comes with it: '12 Crass Songs'. "Sometimes I'm so unhappy and yet I just don't know why"; "I guess..."; "this life is something that can't be repaired"; this is music that needs to be repatriated with Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis, et al.

'I Wish I Was Dust' begins slightly off the key of several hundred songs by The Mountain Goats and speeds up to become more American in style. "Sometimes I wish that this planet would just blow up" is more UK as a lyric though; more David Cronenberg's Wife; more anarchic, more degenerate and more loathsome.

The Casual Terrorist is a study in anti-folk and antifolk sentiment and history. It's interesting. It's all apologies for not knowing how to use a 16 track. But it's also unsettlingly upset. "God dying of a coronary disease back in 1982" is the most acute observation to be found amongst these 6 tracks of bitterness and frantic vagueness.

Phil Coales


Naommon - Love Is Struggling (Allnighter Records)

Love is struggling apparently. It would be if it was as lacklustre as this. A pretty abysmal offering from Naommon, who seems to think that mixing retro club beats and a monotonous, nasal vocal line is terribly avant garde and dangerous. It’s not big and it’s not clever, and it is definitely nothing the world has not seen before. It is simply egotistical and foolish.

Beginning on the album‘s title track ‘Love Is Struggling’, we already begin the disappointment with a tiresome bass line and repetitive lyrics. Not to mention the fact that he keeps saying, ’no, yes, no,’ in a what I guess is a supposedly ‘sexy’ voice. Things look up with ‘Sexuality’, with catchy electro hooks and a decent bass line. The next few tracks are nothing to write home about, seeing Naommon trying to hard to be impressive and just falling flat on his glittery disco nose. ‘Welcome To The Danger Zone’ sounds like something from a ludicrous children’s television programme my seven-year-old sister would watch, that involves a high pitched mouse, a talking piano and a peculiar tambourine. ‘You Should Totally Trust In Me (By Now)’, is laughably ironic, just not on Naommon’s part, as he croons ‘you should trust me by now’ to a background of nineties dance. Ridiculous.

And so we carry on through more humdrum dance tunes and synths; remixes and dreadful displays of narcissism and then the gem arrives. ‘Paris Summer Rain’ is a summery French acoustic wonder and a style that obviously suits Naommon. Singing in both English and French to a backing a laidback guitar chords and a jolly bass, this is undisputedly the album’s best track. I just don’t know why he didn’t make an album of this instead of dull disco-funk. After this, a swift return to the neo-disco pop is taken with ‘Road to Heaven’ and ‘Make It Right’ being the breaking point at which you bang your head brutally against the nearest wall and scream yourself senseless for this all to stop.

Just when you thought everything was okay and the torture had stopped, two bonus tracks appear! ‘You Don’t Realise,’ a remix of something or other that is vile and sounds exactly the same as everything else on the album. Finisher ’Amanda’ is slightly better, featuring a more glam-rock approach to music, not sounding unlike the Scissor Sisters, especially with reference to ‘Amanda, a man.’ Fundamentally, just listen to anything but this.

Eloise Quince


Heavy Hometown – Action Figures

It’s unfortunate for this Indianapolis three piece that they’ve chosen exactly the same fonts and colours for their album art as the Orange phone network. So identical is the look that I had to check all the accompanying bumf to ensure the multinational had nothing to do with it.

That aside, this record is anything but a corporate, polished package. In fact, it’s messy as hell. Heavy Hometown says their album is “a vision of an imperfect person”. Too right; I can’t tell if the scrappy nature of this recording is intentional or not. Although a lo-fi sound can be charming and personal, this recording seems to miss that target and end up just sounding amateur; not so much in musical ideas or lyrics but in presentation. It’s muffled, the guitar tone is grating and the songs aren’t tight. Bands on record need to either let it all hang out, like Nirvana, Sonic Youth or Gang of Four or be anal freaks about every sound that’s used, like a Kevin Smith or Billy Corgan. Here, the quality of the recordings and performance feel restrictive, as if you’re listening to the music through a wall in the next room.

That said, this is an unsigned band and ‘Actions Figures’ is a self-released album. You get what you pay for, or more accurately, what you can afford. Not that this should be an excuse for lack of attention in one’s craft, but the rushed quality of the recording is so frustrating because Heavy Hometown are a great band trying to get out. The ideas in some of the songs are fantastic and it’s easy to imagine how good they’d sound if someone like Tim O’Heir got hold of them and they had six months tweaking the ambience of the reverb-drenched distortion in their closing number ‘The Black Bag’.

90s shoegaze influences can clearly be heard on this record, whilst in other places the band can sound like an early Velvet Underground or even a delicate Band of Horses. The nasally vocals sit on top of these tunes, fitting in well, similar to Pavement’s singer. I’ve been informed that there are two singers on this record, but in all honesty, I can’t tell the difference. Both seem dampened, stifled and fairly inaudible, not that this need hold them back, if they can make it work.

In a broad sense, this record all works well. No song is out-and-out formulaic and there are some surprising tempo changes and melodic choruses. ‘Black Bikini’ and ‘Microchip Love’ are literally exploding with potential.

But that’s the key issue here. Potential. This is a band that’s still finding it’s sound, there’s no doubt about that. It’s why they swerve from country, to shoegaze to blatant Strokes rip-offs (‘My Ghost [Is the Most]’ if your asking) on twelve tracks of musical ADHD. Why not skinny the album down to eight solid songs rather than have this confusing cacophony of strumming, finger picking, distortion, horns, organs, upbeat riffs and melancholic progressions?

Working well in a broad sense is one thing, creating great music that speaks to the listener is another. Whether it be the production, the genre swapping or the monotone vocals, this album just does not speak out. There’s no x-factor, no oomph. It’s a quiet mumble in the background, a muffled jumble that you have to concentrate hard on to pick out the good ideas buried within, making it a frustrating, rather than pleasurable listen. Heavy Hometown have their future in their own hands and it all depends if they can pick up on these early-day flaws if they want that future to be bright (but not necessarily Orange).



Goodnight And I Wish - 'A Ruffled Mind Makes A Restless Pillow' (Modern Pop)

Picture this scene if you can. A busy fairground, a weekend evening, spinning rides and thousands of flashing lights, Snow Patrol blaring out from behind the waltzers when suddenly, all the generators cut out at once and it's all down to Brandon Jacobs to set up his portable Roland and entertain the milling throngs.

Definitely a circusy vibe to opening track 'An Exhibition Of Rarities' which starts with a lengthy sample from what I think is Todd Browning's 1930s film 'Freaks' (I think it might, I've never actually seen the film), and the song has the eerie charm of a Wurlitzer playing a selection of Britpop obscurities.

Actually titling a song 'If Tim Burton Wanted to' leaves little room for doubt as to Goodnight And I Wish's influences, and the combination of animated gothery and songwriting taking its cues from Drake and Barrett is an idea that could fall a little flat, but Brandon Jacobs is a sufficiently adept musician who can not merely keep our attentions but also strike exactly the right note of twisted whimsy that 'A Ruffled Mind' aims for. Enough to keep everyone smiling till the generators start up again.

Jon Gordon


The Boxer Rebellion - 'Union'

With around a half a million downloads already tucked under their collective belt, you might suppose The Boxer Rebellion don't actually need to release a hard copy album. A practically textbook example of a band building and maintaining a career without much in the way of major label support, theirs is a name I recognise. One I had filed away in the Emo section of my band lexicon, and perhaps it's down to people like me making assumptions like that which encourages bands to plough their own furrows across the festival circuits and download sites.

As the lively drum intro of 'Flashing Red Light' is subsumed in a welter of effects-led guitar, it's apparent that The Boxer Rebellion are in the stadium leagues, for all that this album is released under their own imprint. They aren't merely content to overwhelm us with megawatt grandeur though. 'Evacuate' is a frantic double-timed blast that ends only too abruptly, 'Misplaced' is a deftly paced ballad that recalls Keane at his more inspired, 'These Walls Are Thin' begins in a vaguely jazzy guitar part that twists out of all recognition into an edgy ballad, while 'Silent Movie' begins coldly, almost clinically atmospheric until a gradual interplay of instruments provides the song with its near -crescendo of an ending.

So, if The Boxer Rebellion are, essentially, a major act going it alone, is there a reason? Perhaps they didn't quite get it on at their previous label Poptones. Perhaps their technology somehow overtook them, making them fully products of our digital age, or more likely, The Boxer Rebellion simply don't need the hype and are more than capable of doing it their way. 'Union' is something of a minor masterpiece of its kind, and collectors might want to grab some of the two sets of 500 pressings only picture discs the band are releasing in August. I didn't think anyone still did stuff like that nowadays.

Jon Gordon


Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (Deluxe Expanded Edition)

What more can be said about such a legendary group as Black Sabbath? Credited for being the Godfathers of metal, they’re revered and respected by almost every metal-head and rocker the world over. To underestimate their influence and impact in their chosen genre is to misunderstand musical history.

Yes, yes, we all know this right, but so what? Just because every car on the road is a bastardisation of the Model T Ford doesn’t mean that it should be re-released as a “deluxe expanded edition” (like this Sabbath re-release of their original self-titled album) with a stereo, air conditioning and electric windows. What’s more, like almost all special editions re-releases, this new Sabbath offering isn’t a unique gift to fans from a generous record company to honour a band’s art, it’s a hollow effort to milk a giant cash cow until it gives up and it ‘aint gonna be milked no more.

First off, the main album. It’s almost futile passing comment about this debut; it’s a classic. End of. Is it dated? You bet. Is it at times a little tiresome? For this reviewer, yes. Does it verge too much on the prog-rock mystical nonsense that now sounds ridiculous? Without a doubt. But context is everything. Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’ is from an era where music like this was mind blowing. Some of it still is today. Play a song like N.I.B on your stereo and it’s darn near impossible to keep your head from jerking back and forward like a slow walking pigeon. Compare then, this album to its contemporaries: Simon & Garfunkel, Elvis, or even T-Rex. Only Jimi Hendrix joined Sabbath at the forefront of ripping it up. This re-mastered (if you can tell) album speaks for itself.

So if this is the case, why then include a second CD that’s nothing more than a distinctly distasteful raping of Sabbath’s back catalog? Akin to the last decade of Nirvana’s discography, this additional CD is made up of rubbish demos, outtakes and alternative mixes. Unless it’s actual new tunes, how much do even hardcore fans want to hear this stuff?

First offering on CD Two’s smorgasbord of reject crap is actually a surprisingly nice addition. ‘Wicked World’ was a great tune that was on the original American release of the debut album so is included here for purposes of completeness. So far so good. The next tracks are two versions of the song ‘Black Sabbath’, one with a few alternative lyrics and the other as an instrumental. What’s the point in this? Oh and you get to hear Ozzy swear at the beginning. Hilarious. Next is ‘The Wizard’, again on the original album but this one contains, and I quote, “jocular banter”. That’s right, bloody jocular banter. Yes, you get to hear the band talking affably to each other, as if they were mates. For about 15 seconds. Fantastic. And it goes on like this; album track after album track, with “dry vocals”, “horns and flutes” or “alternative mixes”. God help us; it’s nonsense.

This new release, despite its obvious money making credentials is well worth a buy if you’re a Sabbath fan. Even those curious to hear Sabbath’s debut, those who appreciate heavy music or for those genuine record collectors, it’s a meaningful purchase. However, let’s just hope the inclusion of the second CD won’t bump up the price too much as you’ll listen to it once out of curiosity and then it’ll sit in its case forevermore.



The Killer - Not All Who Are Lost ... Want to be Found

After a five year absence from music a lot of bands would just call it a day, this is not the case for Chicago based hardcore band The Killer. Even with the huge gap between releases the band have come back and made a very heavy, very angry record. The mis of very 'doomey' riffs and huge break downs makes Not All Who Are Lost ... a unique hardcore album. The band themselves say they aren't a 'staright up' hardcore band but take influences from other bands to create their own aggession driven sound. It may not be as fast paced as your typical hardcore band, but their sound is refreshing to hear. The Killer produce a darker version of hardcore to what some people may be used to hearing. The roaring vocals of front man Luke Gray really define The Killer's sound. It is almost as if he has combined the vocals of Terror and Integrity and fund a middle ground, and this is the result. If you manage to get past the bleakness of the album and how dark some of the lyrics are then it is actually a great listen. Musically it seems the five year break has done wonderfor the band, as they have found a sound that compliments their talents and really brings the best out of the band. Even though The Killer may be seen as verterans in the Chicago hardcore scene, they are not very well known worldwide, but after listenig to Not All Who Are Lost ... I think this is about to change.

Tim Birkbeck


Olympic Symphonium - ‘More in Sorrow than Anger’

Does the artwork of a band really matter? Well probably because Olympic Symphonium have me captivated already. Their album ‘More in Sorrow than Anger’ comes in a matt cardboard sleeve with an excellently surreal painting of a man with a baby elephant on his back. Inside there’s a fez-wearing mole riding a bike though the woods. In the pages of the accompanying booklet, amongst the hand written lyrics are Victorian pen drawings of people dancing to gramophones and robots carrying monkeys. The whole album reminds me of some kind of cosy, Lewis Caroll children’s book that I’d have loved when young.

And cosy is an apt way to describe their music. This Canadian three-piece make music that conjures up images of firesides, blankets and autumnal days spent indoors. The band themselves say their music was an attempt to “focus more on the subtle, gentler side of music”, something they’ve accomplished, and accomplished well.

‘More in Sorrow…’ is a melancholic album of ten songs that are inescapably folk. The album may be peppered with minor key tunes that touch upon several genres including alt-country and pop but this is a barefaced folk album by a band that are coming into their own. Layered male-female vocals, ominous pianos and ambient interruptions can all be found on this expansive recording; in fact, for what is essentially a “quiet” album, Olympic Symphonium provide an impressive range of emotion and sounds that saves this record from becoming at all tiresome.

Comparisons to The Shins are obvious and clumsy; on ‘Intentions Alone’ and ‘Travellin’ Song’ the band sound more like Seafood in their softer moments, not just with the agonised David Line vocal style but the arpeggiated riffs that accompany them. ‘Blood from a Stone’ is more country than folk whilst other parts of this album, such as the atmospheric ‘This Note’ hear the band create almost post-rock sounds that are wrapped around conventional song structures.

This record is a fantastic offering as a debut album. Quiet and delicate is the nature of the beast and as such, it might not be to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless good music always manages to rise to people’s attention in due course and as such it’s more than likely that Olympic Symphonium will register on your horizon sooner or later. A great, poignant album from a very promising trio who have managed to make a traditional genre sound fresh and yet comfortingly familiar.



Sam Shinazzi -Then I Held My Breath (Black Lodge Audio)

With the acoustic male market as bloated as ever, competitors need to do something rather special to set themselves apart. Sam Shinazzi’s 3rd album is a rather mixed bag, with some promising material let down by rather mundane execution. Opener ‘Today We Lost A Great One’ is a prime example of this. The basis of the song is an emotive acoustic effort, ultimately let down by the full band sound. This theme continues throughout the album, as Shinazzi’s obvious song writing talent is let down by the ‘middle of the road’ effect given by the backing band.

‘Please Don’t Let Me Forget’ is the best thing to be found here, as Shinazzi’s Green Day-esque vocals croon over the more basic stripped down backing track. The song is allowed to breathe with the more simplified production values. Sometimes less really is more.

Joe de Saulles


Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino Records)

The Wild Beasts’ debut effort Limbo, Panto was a strange old affair. With Johnny Marr-esque guitars and outrageous falsetto vocals it was both equally beguiling and frustrating at the same time. With Two Dancers, the boys from Kendal have refined their unique style and produced an album unlike any other you will hear all year, whilst at the same time making themselves much more accessible to a wider audience.

Lead single ‘Hooting & Howling’ has all the hallmarks of Wild Beasts earlier efforts, with harmonious guitars interlinking beautifully with Hayden Thorpe’s high pitched voice. The trick with this track, as with so many others on the album, is to use Thorpe’s unique vocal talents effectively, without it dominating over the beauty of the backing music. This change hasn’t made Wild Beasts any less distinctive than their compatriots, they are merely using their talents more effectively than before.

It really is hard to pinpoint who else the Wild Beasts sound like. The Smiths-style guitars aside, there isn’t much else comparable to them. Other stand out tracks include ‘All The King’s Men’ with its tales of locals girls and the gorgeous ambient strains of closer ‘Empty Nest’. On the evidence of this album, the Yorkshire lads seemed to have gone quite someway to realising their early potential. The future’s bright, the future’s beastly.

Joe de Saulles


Lovvers - OCD Go Go Go Girls (Wichita)

Taking a handful of retro resonances from greats such as the Clash, tipping them on their pretty heads and shaking them violently whilst thrashing them with cymbals - that’s what Lovvers sound like. Dishevelled recording techniques have led to this beautifully raw sound, creating a sincerity that squeaky clean recordings just don’t convey. This is how guitars should sound. This is how bass drums should rattle your brains. This is how tinny productions are made endearing.

‘Creepy Crawl’ is the first track to throttle the ears, clearly showing that Lovvers will start as they mean to go on with coarse guitar work and metallic vocals. Leading comfortably into ‘Four Count’ and ‘Ad Lib’ they show they are an accomplished band, but the beauty comes in the form of next single, ‘OCD Go Go Girls’. Storming through a twelve bar blues set up with a nifty drum beat, it feels like the summer of ‘69 all over again.

‘I Want To (Go)’ is sexy and edgy directing the way for ‘100 Flowers’. A song that is as sweet as it sounds, but a razor sharp edge slices it’s way through by use of palm muting, set to a rollercoaster of drums and those delightfully vague vocals. ‘Golden Bar Blues’ favours picking instead of full on thrashing of strings giving a slower tempo this time, but the harmonies are enough to break the coldest of hearts. ‘AXTXTXIXTXUXDXE’ starts of with a tonne of feedback walloping you in the face, slowly morphing into a satisfyingly noisy chaos. ‘Alone With A Girl’ takes back to the twelve bar again, but an off-beat drum sequence is the real appeal of the song, inventing something captivating and charismatic. ‘Human Hair’ has been re-worked since it’s previous ‘Think’ days and sounds even better for it; the distortion now giving a fuller, dirtier sound. ‘D. Boon’ sounds like a carnival in a music shop, swooping and diving it’s tuneful way through the ear canal. ‘Wild Smiles’ actually does make you smile wildly as the stop-start rhythms collide with high hats and a whole heap of reverb, ending on a screeching guitar solo, as mind bending as it is string bending.

Seriously, this may not be very original, but it is certainly epic; gorgeously retro as it pumps audaciously through the speakers. Stimulated and hyperactive, this is fantastic.

Eloise Quince