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albums - august 2009


 
 

August Burns Red - ‘Constellations’

August Burns Red are whilst a young band in terms of both age and the number of records they’ve released, are also already the proud owners of a finely honed sound that can only come as the result of playing huge numbers of shows.

Whilst the core components of their sound have been done before - you could easily put Atreyu or Killswitch Engage on the album cover and aside from a higher screaming to singing ratio than those bands no one would have batted an eyelid – they do have the potential and often capitalise on that potential to try something different. Whilst the majority of songs on the record are high tempo and loud the occasional moments of inspired bliss (the first act of Marianas Trench for example, and the second section of Meridian) is far from the generic riffery and screamo that occupies most of the record. It’s these songs that take a break from thundering drums and incessant guitar chugging that most capture the imagination and bring the band closer to a more unique and interesting prospect.

For the most part though August Burns Red stick to their comfortable metalcore scene that in terms of maintaining a solid fan base as forerunners of that scene is a wise decision for the unitiated and more casual listener they do fail to mark themselves out exponentially from other bands with bigger names and that do embrace great diversification in their sound. Nevertheless ‘Constellations’ is a solid sophomore record that whilst not groundbreaking is more than enough of a fix for a metalcore or post-hardcore fan.

Chris Sharpe

 

The Sorely Trying Days - Survival Mode

When you think of Old-School Hardcore you think of Black Flag. The Stooges. Minor Threat. Great bands that had something to say and a sound of their own. Dozens of bands at the time and since have sprung upon that sound on a weekly basis and have used them to make their own songs . We don’t really know any of those bands names. Here’s one for you ‘The Sorely Trying Days’ or the The STDs for short. Charming.

People often blame pop music for being repetitive, a waste of time and simply a way of making money out of the masses. Some of those people might be in or listen to this band. Unfortunately for them what they do achieves all of those three but the latter. The best punk is a mindfuck. This is just mindnumbing.

Once again it is the British punk and hardcore bands dominating the worldwide scene and writing the best records. Gallows are rendered incapable of having the same effect as Sex Pistols due to the very nature of the world we live in but they’re the closest we’re probably going to get. The Ghost of a Thousand are probably the closest we’re going to get to Fugazi in terms of their level of creativity and the energy they put into their music. It’s a lot harder to think of American punk bands that deserve that same claim.

All the best American bands have moved away from punk and are doing something more advanced more interesting because they must realise that some sounds have already been and gone. Alexisonfire, Every Time I Die, The Fall of Troy. These are bands with punk and hardcore influences that you should be listening to because they’re interesting and different. If you want to listen to punk and hardcore bands listen to Black Flag because they were trendsetters. The Sorely Trying Days just follow that trend and clearly didn’t get the memo that music has changed and moved on and that bands are allowed to change with it.

The band do play their music well and live they’re probably a lot of fun but they left me bored and the song I ended up most looking forward to on this album was track five. It’s called ‘The Music Has Stopped’. I crossed my fingers.

Chris Sharpe

 

Four Year Strong - Explains It All

My experience of Four Year Strong is their ridiculously catchy riffs and choruses and their unceasing desire to combine pop punk and positive hardcore claiming their own niche of the scene that Set Your Goals similarly occupied. Both bands had the ability to write insanely catch songs and utilise their dual vocal attacks to a successful extent, and both bands friendships with the godfathers of the hardcore/pop punk crossover New Found Glory saw both bands attain a fair amount of success on both sides of the Atlantic.. Both bands similarly suffered the ‘samey’ sound that has plagued pop punk bands for years.

Even so there was an undeniable interest in Four Year Strong and they brought a freshness that further stuck the knife in emo with their seemingly permasmiles and bouncy songs that make an entire album of 90s rock and punk and covers seem like the perfect next step for them.

Opening with a surprising Fleet Foxes-esque collection of cooing on ‘So Much For the Afterglow’ Four Year Strong get back to what they do best. Playing pop punk very quickly and catchier than swine flu with a the currently unavoidable pop punk staple of synths. They continue onwards with the immediately recognisable ‘Absolutely (Story of a Girl)’ which could easily be an original song so easily do the band fit their sound into it.

Their cover of ‘Ironic’ made famous by Alanis Morisette however quickly becomes an album standout. The way the band explodes into the chorus can’t help but make you smile. And that’s what the band does best. Grinning like Cheshire Cats and bouncing around having the time of their lives until you can’t help but join in. Yeah their music can sound the same, but that’s a problem with an over diluted scene than a true criticism of the band. So many bands have risen and fallen faster than you can refresh your MySpace page in Pop Punk that its only the truly high quality ones that continue to demand your attention – the reason why Blink-182’s return has been met with such fervour and Green Day still continue to get on as many magazine covers and sell as many records as they do.

Four Year Strong are a similarly high quality band within their genre and this album whilst by no means vital, is perfectly enjoyable and a worthy listen for fans and non-fans of the band alike. It’s worth streaming just want to see how they deal with some of their favourite songs from the 90s. I for example spent the entire album waiting for their cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’, and it’s a sign of the band’ strength that they manage to pay homage to it without making it cringe-worthy or butchering it as perhaps a lesser band would. The key point to make really is that for the vast majority of pop punk fans this album is well worth a listen but if you can’t deal with having to skip over a few of the more repetitive and weaker numbers and you didn’t like their first album then you probably won’t like this one and I imagine I’ll be able to copy and paste that statement for a review of their upcoming second album if this album is anything to go by.

Chris Sharpe

 

Kong – “Snake Magnet” (Brew Records)

Brew Records have sent me, well not me, but the very fine organ that is Tasty Fanzine, a copy of Kong’s debut LP. Fuck me, it’s brutal. Opener “Leather Penny”, especially in its first half, is making me feel very penned in, such is the claustrophobia it’s creating. The tension is built up with a 7 second and a 10 second beating across the senses interspersed with the verse riff. Yummy. At the end of this song, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s no let up, as the end of 1 track becomes the start of the next, a constant throughout the LP. “Wet Your Knives” points at perhaps some breathing space with a loop pedalled guitar refrain at the beginning, but soon enough the pace quickens and you try and catch some of the words to attempt to work out what’s going on, as if that really matters. The multiple verb conjugation at the end of the track doesn’t really give much away either. The brain is confused, but intrigued. Witness then “Good Graphics”, an instrumental with some great drumming and a whole load of interesting use of shorting guitar cables and a substantial amount of either keyboard tinkering or effect pedal tinkering or both combined, or not. There’s perhaps some games’ effects too, who knows? Either way, it’s a contrast to what’s been on offer so far and a diversion down a sonic cul-de-sac. What the fuck am I on about? I don’t suppose it matters really. It’s good stuff, that’s the important part. Final track, “K(l)ong” (clever), is an ultra repetitive clean looped riff for about 4 minutes, and then occasionally unleashes a brief gut-mithering riff maelstrom, then back to the riff, with playing speed changes, and then nearly 6 minutes in we have the überness of the riff for all to feel, now far from clean and slowly but surely building up to its gruesome conclusion. It’s a class way to finish the LP and might answer the question (should it be asked, of course) whether Kong could recreate the live feel of punk rock sandblasting your face, whilst time-changes and metallic riffs disorientate your feeble frame, for the recorded medium – fear not punters, it would appear it was a piece of piss. It’s a phenomenal start and a sexy snake to boot. Do we give marks on here Shane? No, ok, suffice to say VERY GOOD.

Dave Procter

 
 

Richard Walters - 'The Animal' (Kartel)

Sounds like a sensitive sort of chap Richard Walters does, slightly at odds with the grimacing cover photo which shows him attempting to chew his way through a heaped plateful of cables. But to the music -

Certainly the titles suggest an edgier type of songwriting than I sometimes hear. 'We Have Your Head' is a great title, surely. The instrumentation is sparing and any effects are relatively unobtrusive, while Walter's voice is a plaintive near - falsetto that sounds as if it should belong to a much younger vocalist than the bearded omnivore portrayed on the sleeve.

The weak point is the tunes though. Richard Walters relies a little too much on his vocal skill and could use a little more invention around his song arrangements to really get the most from his material. The acoustic guitar/chorus pedal template doesn't quite bring out the best of his talents. Speed it up and use some louder guitars, Richard. Then your album would sound a lot more like Kings Of Leon than it actually does now.

Jon Gordon

 

gay against you - Righteous Signals, Sour Dudes

Can you imagine a future so much brighter? Do you even hope to be alive in the next milennium? Can you imagine the opposite of what you're feeling right now? Can you imagine a sound that is 0% jaded and 100% boneless fun? gay against you are the songsmiths of an arcadian discoscape that defies rust and such things. 'Cruisin'' is the soundtrack in my head to a pirate video game layered over a game of Pacman (with four eyes), which you play simultaneously, in an arcade which spins anti-clockwise as you freak out on too much sugar cane. It's more synths and sirens and less like a lion with a Nokia 3510 in its throat than 'Muscle Milk'. Yet it still possesses claws. 'Stranded In Jurassic Park' is the sound of 5 games of Super Mario ending all at once. gay against you are the reason Popeye developed epilepsy. gay against you condensed are pure energy: some abstraction of the hardcore continuum that is inherently self-referential. Voices change over time, and Lachlann and Joe are present in swab'n'holler form: 'Victory Quix' sounds like dialling random numbers from the telephone directory of Alderaan at once on 6 different phones. 'Sour Dudes' (side 2) brings you the perspective of gay against you having been taken into a room and told thoroughly off after the unforgiving and unrelenting joy force of 'Muscle Milk'. They are more percussive. They are trying to be greater. 'Magic Eye' sounds most disco and least spacey of the bunch, coming in like a brazen attempt by the Beverley Hills Cop theme tune to ascend the sheer face of Mt. Fun. (Mt. Fun in 2900 is an all-too vivid peak peering above the electric desert of electronic music circa the mid-to-late 21st century.) 'Spooked Channels' asks, like a recreation of a CIA numbers station for the (two thousand eight hundred and) sixties, "What're you having? What're you having? What you're having?". In terms of the futurescape of electronic music, 'Righteous Signals, Sour Dudes' is an expulsion of awesome flame, and, in terms of progression from 'the Adaadat sound': 'Righteous Signals, Sour Dudes' sounds like Agaskodo Teliverek staggering forth from that little blue shop just off Brick Lane, which is filled with sedated cats, into a future of 2900 AD. And there, gay against you are even less human. They're reckless and they're fun and they're not sorry because they're wizards.

Phil Coales

 

Sara Lov – Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming (Nettwerk)

Following on from her earlier EP, The Young Eyes, featuring the exquisite New York, Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming is Sara Lov’s debut album.

It seems that the only thing that’s really developed and grown up though are her eyes, and whilst Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming follows on nicely from the EP, there’s been little music development whilst she’s been making it her eyes have been growing up.

There’s nothing to really grab onto with this album. The arrangements are nice enough, but the lyrics sound tired, and like Lov’s heart just isn’t it. In A Thousand Bees she simply sounds tired and lethargic, but ultimately not convincing.

Luckily the beautiful New York has made it onto the album, and is an absolute stand out . So fragile it could snap in half at any moment, but with a desperately melancholic undercurrent, this will make you sit up and pay attention.

Sadly though, nothing else really lives up to this, and with a hint at the great heights Sara Lov can really achieve, the rest of the album pales into insignificance.

Catriona Boyle

 

Al Green – Green Is Blue (40th Anniversay Edition) (Blue Note Records)

Al Green. Well they certainly don’t make them like him anymore do they? The best we’ve got is Tom Jones. And that dubious dancing at Glastonbury made me feel pretty damn nauseous.

Green Is Blues was one of Al Green’s earliest album, and it’s being reissued to commemorate if being a whopping 40 years since it came out first time round. And like a fine wine, or cheese, or indeed soul singer, it’s aged beautifully.

Mainly featuring covers – from The Beatles to Gershwin, it combines sultry soul, hip-popping funk, and laid-back pop. You’d be hard pressed to tell these weren’t actually his songs though, the way Al Green can slide into a song and make it his own is unrivalled. And that voice - you can just tell he’s smiling when he’s singing, and it’s a damn cheeky grin.

Green Is Blues has an amazing universality about it – it’s music for wherever and whenever. It’s perfect for the wee small hours, or first thing in the morning, hot summer evenings or cold winters nights, and seems to fit the mood no matter what it is, from the sultry ‘Summertime’ to the funk bonanza of ‘Get Back’.

Oh, and one final thing - it’s damn good bedroom music. Al Green’s voice can remove clothing from a 3 mile radius.

Catriona Boyle

 

Joey Negro and the Sunburst Band – The Remixes (ZR Records)

Oh a remixes record. My favourite. Ahem. Well, having not heard any of the tracks on this album in their original form, I hardly feel qualified to comment on the success or failure of the remixes.

Album opener he is He Is is a rather sickly musing about God, according to an eight-year old girl, over a backdrop of what sounds like a dance version of the Charlie’s Angels theme tune. No, I’m not sure what the point is either.

There’s a watery funk theme running the way through, which mainly consists of a slightly interesting synth bass line, some sweeping, airy vocals, and a slight Shaft feel to the whole thing. And not a real instrument in sight.

Sixteen tracks of this is a little hard to bear if you prefer some variety in your music, but if you like the originals, chances are you’ll like these remixes too.
http://www.joeynegro.com

Catriona Boyle

 

Catherine MacLellan – Water In The Ground (True North)

Judging this CD by its cover, as I often do (smacked wrists for me), I was expecting Water In The Ground to be full of ethereal, wispy sounding folk songs by a girl and a guitar.

Instead though, this album is a collection of bluesy, country tinged tracks that breeze along nicely, and there’s a sound of worldly experience that Catherine MacLellan has in her vocals that brings a level of depth and slight melancholy.

Set This Heart On Fire is a cross between a Saturday night blues track and a traditional campfire song, giving it a warm, friendly feel. In contrast, the next track Sorrows Drown is its antithesis, a song about heartbreak with a soft, shuffling accompaniment.

Water In The Ground shows Catherine MacLellan’s experience well. Her lyrics have a poignancy to them that’ll ring true with anyone, and the strong blues influences adds a ‘woman scorned’ edge that commands respect that could one day see her sit alongside the likes of Emmylou Harris.

Catriona Boyle

 

The Sword – “Gods of the Earth” (Kemado) and “Age of Winters” (Kemado)

When Mr Blanchard passed this double helping of The Sword (great name) onto me, I asked him how prog these were, having been promised prog. “Very prog”, was his confident answer. He was correct. It is very prog. And metal. The Tull-esque opening “The Sundering” on “Gods of the Earth” doesn’t really prepare you for the twin-guitar duel-fest Maiden-ness of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, which is really quite lovely indeed. Riffing is present, lyrics about wizards, sorcery and the dark are not far behind. Good idea. As you would hope with anyone attempting to do prog justice, the song titles are all important and this band does not let us down. My particular favourite being “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians”, with a speeded up Hawkwind/Sabbaff vibe throughout (always welcome chez Prock), although the previously appearing “How Heavy This Axe” pushes it close for ace name action. Unusually for a prog LP there are a lot of tracks under 5 minutes long, and point to some slowed-down Metallica ideas, which co-incidentally is the very band they supported in the UK this year. Really, anybody with a slight passing interest in the proggier ends of metal could do a lot worse than getting their paws on this LP, there are some mighty fine moments here. I expect the internet and record shops will have details of how you can purchase such an item, I sit back smugly in the knowledge of already having a copy – for nowt! You see, cobbling together some sort of coherent string of sentences does have value in society.

And so to the debut LP “Age of Winters”. Does it give a hint of what’s to come in “Gods of the Earth”? Let’s prepare our lugholes and find out. On the edge of time. I can report that it does indeed point to things to come. The main one being the riff as the less than 2 minutes “Celestial Crown” walks up to you, punches you in the kidneys and hollers in your ear “The riffs are this way sir. Follow me!”. The themes contained in this LP don’t deviate much from the swords and sorcery idea, and remind me a bit of Dio-era Black Sabbath, but with a much denser and aaaaaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhh sound. It’s hard to point to favourite tracks on this CD as the tracks all fit together so well as a whole. Having said that, I think the follow up LP ups the ante as the progressive side is developed more – this LP is almost totally about the riff, which is no bad thing of course, but “Gods of the Earth” seems to “work” better to these ears. Roll on the third LP, should be a lot of fun. I have my incantations and magic spells waiting……

Dave Procter

 

Fredo Viola – The Turn

Fredo Viola’s ‘The Turn’ includes more than music: the album also contains a CD of visuals and a booklet of lyrics accompanied by kaleidoscopic images. With an obvious classical influence, Fredo Viola’s debut album features many string, wind and brass instruments and acoustic bass and drums. The vocals seem almost choral in style, and the CD of visuals reveals that this effect is built from layers of vocals recorded individually by Fredo Viola. The instrumentation is often sparse, but this layering of vocals allows Fredo Viola to create a full sound. Opening track, ‘The Turn’, is the perfect example of this a cappella choral style, and eventually builds into something grand and breathtaking. Some aspects of the album can get repetitive and some songs are not altogether capable of grabbing the listener’s attention.

The CD of visuals adds another dimension to the music. Several songs are accompanied by fragmented images of New York City, while others are set to the image of multiple Fredo Violas, creating a sense of a one-man choir.

Yasmin Prebble

 

Pink Punk – Zombie God Delicious

The name of this band, the album’s title and the artwork encompass about a million ‘alternative’ clichés; it seems like this group are trying a little too hard.

With this in mind, ‘Universe on Tap’ is unsurprisingly awful. Like the cover art, it tries (predictably) to be dark and atmospheric. This could be the uninspired soundtrack to a low budget horror film. A man and a woman are talking over the top of the music, and I dislike this song a little bit more every time they begin a new tirade of crushingly dull speech. The confusing addition of some flutes later in the track also does the song no favours.

‘Pink Punk Presents’ and ‘Catalogue Democracy’ merge together and create a mass of dullness and weird electronic bleeping. ‘Advertising’ continues the theme of making unoriginal points in an even more embarrassing way. The remainder of ‘Zombie God Delicious’ continues in the much the same way: uninspiring and repetitive.

Yasmin Prebble

 

Blindfold – Faking Dreams (Cinepop Records)

‘Faking Dreams’ will perhaps ensure that Blindfold gain comparisons to Sigur Rós: both bands are Icelandic and have a penchant for falsetto vocals and numerous ambient noises. Despite these (already questionable) similarities, Blindfold are missing that almost otherworldly aspect of Sigur Rós’s music that is difficult to pin down. It is Radiohead, not Sigur Rós, who are the most apparent presence on ‘Faking Dreams’. From the melodic line of ‘Sad Face’, to the syncopated drumbeat of ‘Faking Dreams’ and the eerie feel of ‘Hungry Heart’, Radiohead’s influence can be heard in many instances.

‘Confused’ is, for me, one of the only tracks on the album that really stood out. It is dappled with discordant distorted guitar sounds amongst melancholic Thom Yorke-esque vocals. The final track, ‘Reverse’, is almost ten minutes of atmospheric electronic noise and could easily be skipped without missing out on too much. Many of the other songs on ‘Faking Dreams’ are also enjoyable, but slipped by quite easily in a drift of ambient euphoria.

Yasmin Prebble

 

Cougar - Patriot (Counter)

The best way to describe Cougar’s music is perhaps lo-fi post rock. Unassuming and instrumental in nature it bears all the hallmarks of a classic post-rock sound (arpeggiated riffs, numerous crescendos, clean-to-distorted-to-clean interplay, ethereal moans, you know, that kind of thing). On first impressions, this album does exactly what it says on the tin. Well it would if it came in a tin that read “standard post rock”.

This of course, doesn’t mean ‘Patriot’ is actually a formulaic album; it’s just a slow burner, that’s all. It’s undeniably likable, and there’s a quirky charm about the whole affair. The opening couple of tracks may serve as weak openers, but they quickly pale in comparison to some fantastic tunes that crop up later on. Track four, ‘Pelourinho’ is a beautifully delicate song, drenched in atmosphere that turns into some sort of skipping ambient-dance, sitar-fest with effortless grace. This is followed by ‘Thundersnow’, a tune driven by a distorted bass that’s so phat, it seems the whole thing is going to explode into some anthemic stadium filler, but turns quickly a 65DaysofStatic-esk swirl of guitars. ‘Daunte v Armada’ has an uplifting guitar riff that tears through a scattering of drumbeats and Hammond keyboards.

However at times, this album suffers from many a post rock cliché; sometimes they work but mostly it ends up feeling all very tired and obvious. The first half of ‘Apponmattox’ is a good example: two chimey guitars ringing out picked notes backed by an intricate drum beat blah blah blah. You know the score. It’s not fresh or exciting, it’s plain boring.

Yet credit where credit is due; what makes Cougar stand out from the post-rock mire in which so many sub-standard bands currently wallow is their seeming ability to add a twist of the unexpected. ‘Apponmattox’ actually swerves around and sections of it are brilliant, making the incidental clichés forgivable. It’s the jaggedy computer noises, the weird volume swells, the growling bass lines and the few gorgeous guitar lines that will draw listeners in to ‘Patriot’.

With superb bands like Errors or Break of Reality turning this genre on its head, competing bands such as Cougar need to stay sharp and fresh to avoid being sucked into the mire and becoming yet another tick-box, atmospheric instrumental band. At times they rise to this challenge superbly, but at times they seem to pander too much to what’s expected. Nonetheless this still remains a charismatic record that’s well worth a listen.
http://www.myspace.com/cougarsound

Moker

 

Blakfish - Champions (Hassle)

Blakfish are one of those bands that flit around within their sound like an angry wasp who, after flying into your bedroom through the window readily enough, can’t seem to figure out how to get out the way they came in. And then just because they’re pissed off they’ll sting you.

Buzzing out of Birmingham and stumbling upon a UK rock scene in need of the burst of fresh air they and bands like In Case of Fire are more than willing to provide, has lead to them creating an almost universally acclaimed mini-album, live show and now complete LP that has lead to them being hyped named one’s to watch by every reputable internet music site, blog and magazine in the country.

To the imbalanced and ADD music taste you will perhaps initially listen to ‘Economics’ and want to write them off immediately as a Gallows a-like British hardcore band. And the things is you can’t. Blakfish make it impossible for you to pin them down or brush them aside and out of the window with a newspaper (refer to earlier metaphor) with their fantastically refined and experimental sound that strikes you with the American mathcore (Fall of Troy/The Dillinger Escape Plan etc) sound and brilliantly constructed, honest and often hilarious lyrics that smack of bands like Reuben and more recently Enter Shikari. More often than not they’re bang on the money with lyrics like “And who the fuck is Simon Cowell/ To tell people that they can't sing/When I've never heard him sing a note in my life” on second track “Ringo Starr – 2nd Best Drummer in the Beatles” and they happily skip over all the crap, false anger and teen angst that overrides so much of the punk/hardcore scene. Whilst they’re still undeniably angry their punishing judgements of society and the individuals and factions that populate it they temper that anger with a forlornness and shame about the way that things have gone in the UK music scene that they have spent so long in: “I don't know what came first/The shit music or the shit drugs/But I do know that all the kids that used to go to shows/Now go to clubs”.

They’re often almost tearing themselves apart with their energy and enthusiasm in evidence on stand outs like “Your Hair’s Straight But Your Boyfriend Ain’t” but they manage to execute their poppy and yet incontrovertibly heavy songs one by one on the album with an aplomb and fervour that immediately places them at the forefront of the punk/hardcore and general rock scene.

Whilst they’re not a completely polished act (and it would be better if they don’t ever become one the roughness around the edges of their songs simply makes them stand out from the crowd even more) and they’re never going to make this a top ten album they clearly have no intention of doing so, making a bee line for brutal honesty and doing exactly what they want to do with a song at any given point instead of ticking off the unspoken check list for your everyday formulaic hard rock album.

What Blakfish have done seemingly without even trying is become the UK’s answer to The Fall Of Troy mixed in with the undeniably British edge to their sound and created one of the most spectacular and vital debut albums of the year. In their own right – champions.

Chris Sharpe

Blakfish - Champions

If you take a bit of Fall Of Troy, added with a splash of Daughters and topped with a pinch of These Arms Are Snakes, then you will have the recipe that makes up Blakfish. The band contain phenomenal technical abilites with their instruments, combining technical guitar riffs with clever witty lyrics and hard hitting drum beats. Blakfish have an almost unbeatable formula.

Having already gained critical acclaim with their Ep See You In Another City, Blakfish took time out to go to America and record their full length album.The album Champions is a musical treat to listen to, with crazy riffs and catchy yet ironic lyrics. Having said this the album does also make your head do back flips at times where the music is just so hectic your mind cannot comprehend what is happening.

The one thing you cannot deny while listening to Champions is that Blakfish enjoy music they are making. Not only do they produce good songs but they have fun doing so at the same time. An example of this are some of the comical song titles the band have come up with. Two of my personal favourites are Your Hair's Straight But Your Boyfriend Ain't and If The Good Lord Intended Us To Walk He Wouldn't Have Invented Roller-Skates.

From listening to the album a few times it is obvious that Blakfish aren't in this industry for money or fame, they are here for all the right reasons. To have fun and produce good music in the process.

Tim Birkbeck

 

Helsinki Seven - S/T

The band claims to have been likened to ‘At The Drive In’, ‘The Pixies’ and that they are for fans of ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Biffy Clyro’. Bold claims for a band that sounds more like first album ‘The Automatic’ without the football anthem, pop sensibilities and Chihuahua..

There’s simply nothing captivating about the band, the ideas have all been done before, and it’s as if this could all be one long song. The band aren’t bad at what they do it’s just that what they do actually made me yawn, guitar riffs seemingly on repeat with lyrics to match as the band seem to be working from a mainstream hard rock cheat sheet. Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Outro. Repeat.

It’s fine for a couple of songs but when I have to keep referring to the CD player to find out which track I’m on it’s hard to put a positive spin on things. ‘At The Drive In’ were renowned for their experimental nature and spazzed out songs and ‘Biffy Clyro’ before very recently for their song craftmanship and progressive sound that got them the renown and popularity they have today.

Looking back at this review I thought I was being a bit over harsh. So I skipped through the first five seconds of each song. It took me until track 9 for them to try something fundamentally different sounding. And then they went back to the same thing as all the others by the time I was ten seconds in. Ten songs of almost exactly the same sound. It’s just a waste. To confirm to myself I wasn’t being over harsh I tried it out on my brother. He was actually laughing by track 3.

Don’t buy this record.

Chris Sharpe

 

The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

How to start a review of the re-release of possibly the greatest debut album of all time? What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said before in the 20 years that have passed this this was first released?

There is only one thing to say. If you do not own this album go buy it. Now. Immediately. Not once you’ve read this review, not after a nice cup of tea, but now, this instant. If you don’t have this album and are still reading… why?

Gone? Good. Now for the rest of us that already own this seminal piece of rock history, let me describe this album for you. You know the one you’ve got? It sounds a lot like that. Re-mastered by Ian Brown and John Leckie, it’s unlikely you’ll notice the difference. Each track remains a classic in its own right, demanding of repeated listens with the house or car windows open wide or fully down so that everyone can partake in the glorious celebration of what has been THE bench mark for the last two decades.

But should you buy this album, assuming you already own the original version? Well, if you’re a proper fan, a die hard fan, who puts Ian Brown before their own mother and God, Bhudda, Mohammed or whichever particular path you choose to wander, the sort of fan that would sell a kidney to buy a polished turd that was laid in a toilet some years after John Squire once sat on it, then yes, you should. But otherwise?

Probably not. Which is not to compare this to a polished turd. The re-release comes with an Extra’s CD featuring 13 additional songs, from Fools Gold to Mersey Paradise and pretty much everything else you could reasonably expect. But you’ll probably already have these elsewhere.

It also has a DVD of the entire Blackpool Empress Ballroom show and a 48 page soft bound book with photos and interviews with the band and famous fans of the like of Gallagher senior and Peter Hook, which you probably won’t have. Although neither the DVD nor book were in my promotional copy so fuck knows if these are worth the money.

So if you’re a fan, but a normal fan, a fan without Ian Brown’s face scratched into your arm with a blunt compass, you’re unlikely to gain much through purchasing this album. Instead use this re-release as a reminder to dig out your back catalogue and reacquaint yourself with some proper guitar music. Proof, if proof was needed, that 99.9% of today’s bands are shit.
www.thestoneroses20.com
View the Stone Roses singles video player

Jim Johnston

 

Ido Tavori - “Rhythm is a Beggar” (Lovepoem Records)

26 year old Israeli Tavori’s first release on his vanity label Lovepoem is a competent slice of electronica. Opener “Wasteland” shows promise while Gabriel Shoyoye’s (AKA Blacksmith) streams of consciousness shine and bring a little extra zip to “Five” and “Portion”. Yvette Barwood’s rent-a-Soul vocals sadly do not however. It’s not a long album clocking in a just around the half hour mark, and to be honest it was about five minutes before I realised it had stopped playing. And that’s the problem; it neither offends, nor stands out. It never truly exceeds expectations and is just another piece of reasonably well made background music to add to a world already saturated with it. “Haunted Top Hats” tries to break the spell, sounding like a perverted game of Pac-Man and is the best thing on this by a country mile. But it flies against the wind in contrast to the rest of this album, which doubtlessly well intentioned and faultlessly executed, is damned by its anonymity.

R.McGregor

 

Various Artists : Captain Woof Woof’s Guitar (Bearsuit Records)

There are havens of eclecticism and then there’s Edinburgh’s Bearsuit Records, who provide us with a sampler of their current roster which makes the UN look somewhat parochial. This being a label that prides itself on experimentalism, there is ample pishy noodling and electronic navel gazing by more than a few artists (Mr Fritz and Magnitophono’s tiresome efforts come to mind, along with AWSTS) who have little more than a conventional understanding of the term. You know the drill – lets have some moody-ish noises, some ‘odd’ found sounds, and have someone occasionally murmuring nothing in particular of the top, preferably in Japanese.

Occasionally however the end product is remarkable - Belarus’ Port Mone triumph in particular with the awesome “River”, a frightening accordion led tribal stomp which is begging to be added to a soundtrack for a horror film set in a Cajun swamp.

Per Olund Band takes Ryuchi Sakamoto, Vangelis and crosses it with local opera singer Ingvar Wixell. On this basis, Sweden must be a god-awful strange place to live but it’s not half bad on the ears. There is also a rare foray into the conventional world of folk complete with strings (The Temple Cloud Country Club) which seems more eclectic than the surrounding acts.

Can’t help but feel that this is a label that needs to get rid of about half its roster though on grounds of sheer hackneyed unoriginality. Pop and Rock tend to get a hard time for their formulaic nature – perhaps its time experimentalism had a word with itself.

R. McGregor

 
 

Various Artists: Fruits de Mer Volumes 4-7 (Fruits de Mer)

My Kingdom for a laptop that was capable of playing vinyl. Fruits de Mer, a crazed off-shoot of Bracken Records specialises in releasing covers of psychedelic classics on far out limited edition coloured vinyl and finding that out while having a bog-standard CD to review is, well, shit.

So, each of the volumes gives us a different artist. Cranium Pie are frankly a fairly bonkers proposition. Coming to you on “7" money-grass-weed-green vinyl”, the band give us a Beatles cover of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” and re-acquaint us with long forgotten 60’s acid tricksters Dantalion’s Chariot (who featured a considerably pre-Police Andy Summers). It is enjoyably unhinged, and much like XTC alter ego’s Dukes of Stratosphear lovingly re-created 60’s pyschedelia for the 80’s, Cranium Pie do much the same for the 21st Century.

German’s Vibravoid give us their seismic interpretations of Can, Kraftwerk and Amon Duul II while The Flaming Gnomes recreate, allegedly with better production, ancient tunes by The Zombies and the too often sublime Caravan (who’s finest of many fine moments was 1971’s “In The Land of Grey and Pink”), all enshrined for you to cherish on swirly burgundy vinyl. The Dukes reference points are somewhat reinforced with a singer who sounds suspiciously like XTC’s Colin Moulding.

Finally we have Mark Fry, who cut one album for RCA in the early 1970’s and then promptly dropped off the face of the earth. He returns after almost four decades with a gently lilting form of acid-tinged folk. Sitars are employed. It’s all very nice.

The point of all this? Who knows. Relevancy? Who cares. At the most basic level, this is an attempt by a small indie in resuscitating that most whimsical of genres without coming across as humourless in the effort to do so. There is certain warmth to be detected in the Old Fruits’ approach, a genuine enthusiasm for sharing all this old stuff again. The exclusivity of the format will certainly ensure its collectivity, and you can’t help but admire them for it. It’s certainly better than listening to Screamo.

R. McGregor

 

Alex Valentine - 'A Short Album About Love' (Struck Dumb)

Yet another collection of easy on the ear guitar ballads finds its way onto my stereo. Alex Valentine can sing, play the guitar, and the 12 tracks on this, his third album, aren't actually that short with the entire opus clocking in at something over forty minutes.

Clifford T. Ward. That's who Alex Valentine's reminds me of vocally, that and Gordon Giltrap whom he's had one or two guitar lessons from. His backing band specialise in laid back jazzy brush stroke ambiences which never detract from the songs, and the production has a light touch to it which works all the more effectively when the instrumentation gets more complicated, such as the string section which provides an elegaic backing to fifth track 'Ghosts'. Songs such as 'Tangled Up In You' could use a bit more from the mixing board though, that reverb laden guitar break is so subtle it's practically inaudible. 'Golden Valley Girl' has the authentic beach boho touch of authentic 60s folk pop (eg: Donovan) and 'One Way Ticket' is a reverential sounding Dylan tribute.So you get the idea. Alex Valentine is aiming squarely for that crucial Radio 2 airplay spot and make no mistake, he's got a bit of competition for that.

I just wish that the Alex Valentine's of this world would take a few more risks musically. I know Bob Harris is getting on a bit but if making Terry Wogan's hairline twitch appreciatively is the ultimate accolade offered to talented blokes such as our Alex here, then is it any wonder James Blunt went home early? I'm not sure what to suggest here, but how about making it a bit rockier, maybe some sort of eastern sounding instrumentation, adding some production tricks like backwards guitar solos, even some 'socially aware' or mildly satirical lyrics. It's been done before? 'Revolver'? Who's that by then?
http://www.alexvalentine.com

Jon Gordon

 

How's My Pop - 'On The Hop' (Barn Box)

Opener 'Soil' is a welter of percussive trickery and innovative guitar runs, seemingly flying off in around half a dozen different directions simultaneously, managing to contain a fearsome number of elements - jazz keyboard, a flute, one or two expansive guitar solos, and its one very effective introduction to a talented bunch of musicians. But the big question with highly effective intros is always 'is this sustainable'? Have How's My Pop used up all their best ideas in their albums first four minutes?

Of course they haven't. It's a few tracks into 'On The Hop' before the four piece present us with anything quite so lively though. These aren't in any sense garage muckabouts, there's a palpable air of serious musicianship about this one, and it's with the slightly slower midtempo numbers that How's My Pop want to show us their songwriting and arranging skills, and given that around half the album was recorded in various impromptu home settings, these are in many ways considerable, with string and brass backing up some already attention grabbing songs at various moments.

'On The Hop' is a quite excellent album, easily the most assured debut release I've heard since I began writing for Tasty, and that's over a year ago.
http://www.barnbox.co.uk/howsmypop

Jon Gordon

 

The Poison Arrows - First Class and Forever (File 13)

‘First Class and Forever’ is the genre hopping, atmospheric and often raw sounding debut from Chicago three-piece The Poison Arrows. Snarly and occasionally aggressive vocals run through this record, akin to Mancunian Mark E Smith. In turn, these sit within pounding bass lines and swirling guitars making the ‘Arrows sound more like an experimental madchester band rather than a contemporary American group. There are definite hints of The Fall and SpaceMen 3 here that are constantly detectable in their shoe-gaze-come-post-rock sound.

But the comparisons don’t end there, there’s dozens of influences that can be heard throughout this record, intentionally or unintentionally. Every song is a “this reminds me of...” moment and consequently it’s an album that refuses to be pigeon holed. Math rock, Battles-style shapes are thrown on opener ‘Future Wine’, followed by crazy ambient noises that flick through ‘Total Beverage’ with a dominant bass line that sporadically drives the tune forward. In fact, the bassist is phenomenal at all times, manically jumping around the fret board, never more so than on ‘Peruvian Mountain Fight’ with a pounding Kasabian-esk intro. There are lighter times, such as ‘Twenty Percent Brighter’ which is clean guitar interplay over a moody minor key backdrop or ‘To Meet Eyes’ which is more discordant and sounds similar to latter day Sonic Youth.

On paper this album is fantastic. The influences are there, the song writing is there, the experimentation is there and even the kudos is there – they recorded ‘First Class and Forever’ in Steve Albini’s studio – but something is missing. Without wanting to agree with cheesy purveyor of crap Simon Cowell, there is a certain x factor to music that is just there or it isn’t. It can be indiscriminate in its presence, and at times it’s conspicuous in its absence on this record. There are brilliant moments to be heard, it’s a textbook balance of style and substance, but something doesn’t click.

Maybe this is an unfair and wishy-washy charge to levy upon this recording, which is why I implore readers to give it a listen themselves. However, to this reviewer, whilst I can appreciate the effort put in and the complexity of this album, it doesn’t light my lemon like it should. Let the masses decide.

Moker

 

Vladislav Delay - Tummaa

The hard to pronounce name, the extremely wordy press release, the classical jazz training, the boastful improvised nature of the music, all this made Tummaa feel like a daunting album to listen to, let alone review. It also bugged me. Music is meant to be fun and exciting and emotional and touching and special, not like a bloody lecture from the Observer Music Monthly about jazz history. I felt like I’d picked up the War and Peace of music albums. Even the artwork was pretentious, the ‘hand written’ text difficult to read, the majority of tracks over ten minutes in length; everything seemed a bloated, uphill struggle.

Yet, on listening, I immediately loved this album. I was drawn in. Yes, what is recorded here is technically a three-piece jamming on what could be considered instruments, but this ‘aint music son. It’s more of an audio experience. It reminds me greatly of the Lifeforms album by Future Sounds of London, or Aphex Twin’s less commercial creations. It’s almost organic, like the music is alive, an expansive swamp of weird living things that all have their own unique sound as the listener glides overhead. Yes it really is that weird.

The other obvious comparison is to now defunt GY!BE, but to call what Vladislav Delay has created here as post-rock is clumsy and blunt, in the same way to label it ambient dance or electro is pretty unsuitable, even if the mastermind behind this album is Sasu Ripatti, the Finnish electro-musician.

Each song is minimal in its presentation and normally revolves around a repeated riff or sound. This provides the only sense of rhythm on most of the record whilst numerous other noises appear and disappear, as if they’ve momentarily leapt out of the darkness before descending once again out of view. Yes, if you haven’t already guessed, Tummaa does what all excellent ambient and post rock albums do, it makes the listener visualise along with the music. Noises become shapes, sounds trigger images in your head. It’s a subtle but persistent stimulation of the senses. It immerses the listener completely, rather than sitting atop of whatever else you’re doing at the time.

Look, there’s no doubt that this is a niche record. To some, this will be utter nonsense. But even those who detest such albums must give Ripatti and his Vladislav Delay project credit for its barefaced attempt to do something different, to challenge what is acceptable and to take post rock and ambient music to their ultimate conclusions. Personally, I can’t help but feel its inaccessibility is its strength. It’s a bit like meditation, if you don’t give it a chance; you’re just someone sitting in a room cross legged feeling a bit stupid. However, invest in it and there’s a good chance it’ll be a great and unique experience. The same principle applies for this outstanding and original album.

Moker

 

Inme - Herald Moth

Inme are a band that came onto the scene a gained a fan base during the nu-metal era of the late 90's. Now if we fast forward ten years to 2009 and Inme's release of their fourth studio album, and them seem like a band very out of place in the modern music spectrum. Even in the glory days on nu-metal Inme were a band that seemed to trail behind everyone else, they are a marmite band, you either love them or hate them. Several years have passed since the bands formation and I don't think a lot of peoples minds would have changed in this space of time so won't gain anymore success.

The fourth album for the band may bring the fans new songs, but the sound and directions of the band has not changed in the slightest. Inme have stuck to their tried and tested formula, which they are comfortable with, but it is very dated. The new album Herald Moth is driven by the technical guitar solos that ring out throughout many of the songs. Without sounding harsh towards Inme but this does show the band has talent, it just appears that Inme are playing a genre of music that has long faded out and is limiting their audiences. Even though the album is mainly driven by the guitar riffs, there are times when the riffs don't seem to even fit together, and this makes the whole song sound a bit chaotic.

The song Single Of The Week is set to be released as the first single off the album, and it is clear to see why as it is the strongest track on the album. It is the only song that has some variation in it and can appeal to a wider audience.

It is unfortunate to say but like other bands of this era, Hundred Reasons and Hell Is For Heroes, Inme have drifted to the back of the rock pecking order and their style of music just doesn't appeal to a large demographic anymore.

Tim Birkbeck

 

Colin Pollock - 'Long Gone'

It's drivetime, with Colin. But which one? The gifted session player able to emulate any number of guitar styles with his own brand of off-the-cuff wizardry, or the verbose satirist and storyteller taking aim at any number of targets, and enlivening his vitriol with tales of failure and heartbreak from more than one boulevard of broken dreams, be it West 53rd Street, the Reeperbahn, Route 66, the A23, and Bleecker Street which I thought was in New Orleans but is also in New York. Colin Pollock has both bought the road map and read it. And he's many a tale to tell, but are any of them actually his own?

Reading the lyric insert it seems there are enough characters and scenarios amongst the songs on 'Long Gone' to populate several bookshelves. So I was expecting to hear some real down 'n dirty near chaotic percussive blues tracks to accompany these tales of woe and abandonment. But the music is for the most part studiously polite, the sound of radio ads and karaoke backing tracks added to which are some energetic and adept guitar licks from Mr Pollock, who can definitely give up the day job.

Anyone familiar with the work of Steely Dan will quickly spot what's missing from 'Long Gone' though. A bit of jazz timing would give added weight to these closing time tales of regret. But Colin Pollock really wants to play country, and his backing band just want to get paid, and I suspect the vocals were added a week or two after the music was recorded. The result is embittered sounding commentaries on celebrity such as 'New Depths In Shallow', while tales of oil rig bad men such as 'El Caudillo' and Joe, of 'Can Joe Play The Banjo?' (he can't, but Pollock gives us a nifty JJ Cale impression) and also Howard, the protagonist of '325 On The Last Run', these are the anti-heroes of the well thumbed paperbacks that litter second hand bookshops everywhere.

It's definitely different. But as a Scot living in London, why use so many US locations as backdrops for his lyrics? The unnamed wannabe subject of 'The Next Big Thing' was 'raised in a brownstone on West 53rd', which is unquestionably more glamorous than Langside Road or Norwood High Street, and setting his stories in UK locations would result in a very different sounding album to 'Long Gone', but the transatlantic distance sanitises the pervasive lack of happy endings. And the sleeve was designed in Norway, so we can expect Colin Pollocks' next album to contain stories about deadbeats and losers living on Pilestredet and Munkesdamveien (these are in Oslo).
http://www.colinpollock.com

Jon Gordon

 

Dieter Moebius - 'Kram' (Klangbad)

Moebius' next album is his fortieth. Part of the same wave of German electronic experimentalists of the late 60s/early 70s that include Can, Kraftwerk, Neu, Aamon Dull and his own previous outfit Cluster and, now in his mid 60s, Moebius is showing few signs of mellowing with age. If anything, he's finding energies and creativity that are outstripping his previous works.

Firstly, it's worth noting the relative brevity of the ten tracks on 'Kram'. I don't doubt for a minute that Moebius is able to expand these into album length epics, or that several of them are edits of much longer pieces, but Moebius chooses to keep his muusic both accessible and conventionally structured. First track 'Staut' is an expanded glissando of ethereal hisses and attenuated, probing time signatures, an improvised track that verges on freefrorm and had this listener anticipating an hour or so of concrete atonality. Not so, next tracks 'Kommt' and 'Womit' are purposefully rhythmical and with the former in particular recalling Kraftwerk's more experimental mid 70s work. Next up, 'Dauert' has Moebius taking on some funk based electropop, and a sudden guest vocal appearance from Phil Oakey wouldn't sound out of place here. Contrasting sharply is the sequenced industrialism of 'Steigert' and its equally strident follow up 'Lauert' which maintains the momentum while drawing its sounds from a markedly lighter grouping of waveforms. 'Rennt' and 'Rast' continue this theme, piano notes drawn just as far as Mobius wants them, jarring against metallic percussion and conversational oscillations. 'Schwitzt' takes a tribal beat and progressively breaks down its patterns into low frequency droning interspersed with sparkling triangulations, and final track 'Markt' energetically recalls some of Holger Czukay's mid 80s work in its stuttering patterns of sampling.

Moebius might assert that he's only ever recorded one album and is revealing it to us in segments: 'Kram' is a consistently inventive collection of tracks and a definite must-hear for the euroelectro buffs amongst us.
http://dietermoebius.de

SB

 

Athlete - Black Swan (Fiction)

Say what you like about Athlete, they’ve never been a band to shy away from a musical cliché or seventy. And whilst originality has never been their forte, this hasn’t seemed to hamper their achievements: a number one album and an Ivor Novello award for starters thankyouverymuch.

Still, if musical history has taught us anything, it’s that popularity is by no means an accurate barometer of quality. Mr Blobby got to number one for Christ’s sake. Cher held the same spot for seven weeks using a bloody vocoder. Lily Allen, well, she just won’t go away. If anything, “the charts” have become dirty words for a lot of musicians, but it seems that, for Athlete at least, chart success is their priority. Why else would they make such a formulaic and radio friendly album?

Black Swan, their fourth studio album is one of those records that is just… there. Sure it’s got a lot of anthemic choruses with hammering chords (think Snow Patrol) and some angsty, lovelorn lyrics (think Scouting with Girls I’m afraid) but hey, it’s all so been done before. To death. There are no clever time changes here, no sonic exploration, no crazy instrumentation, no head nodding riffs or beats, no honest to God emotional, no originality, no soul and all this is further compounded by the fact that every song is coated in a sterile, sickly film of over-production.

On first listen, this album is actually quite impressive; it’s intricate and layered and the band have clearly poured a lot of time into it. Yet the more you listen, the more it becomes a swollen mess, emotionally empty, riddled with predictability; it really sounds like a band going through the motions.

The weakest link is perhaps singer Joel Pott’s radio friendly, MOR vocals that seem to have no qualms in bellowing out clichéd lyrics: “My heart is a stone, you don’t want to go there” he informs us. “I’ve waded through the darkest field you’d imagine” he claims. “The world is too heavy for my shoulders, come take the weight off me now” he says, just like the four trillion singers before him.

Musically, Athlete are far more proficient. There are some glimpses of fantastic guitar work here, some clever riffs and lead lines that sit modestly within the mix but are at times half drowned by yet more swooning violins pasted in the background. There are also a few stand-out moments in general. ‘Magical Mistakes’ is an 80s tinged, delay-driven song that almost sounds as if it’s going to burst into Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ and ‘Love Come Rescue’ is the only time the band really shine. It’s a stripped down acoustic number, with breathy vocals drenched in reverb. It’s emotionally charged and delicate, it sounds like a different band. Why couldn’t it be like this for the whole album?

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. I get the feeling that if this band had rawer vocals, a stripped down, Steve Albini approach to production and less of the trying-so-hard-to-sound-epic feel to their songs they’d be touted about by scenesters with the same affection as say Band of Horses. But obviously that doesn’t sell records or pull in the fickle chart buying public that Athlete seemingly want to target.

Perhaps the real issue with this album is that whilst it’s hardly a horrendous offering, it feels overly bloated and cumbersome, it quickly manages to become one big sludge of stadium pop-rock. There are only so many times a band can roll out the clichés before it all starts sounding the same. There’s little doubt that Black Swan will be a fan-pleasing chart success, but perhaps if Athlete pandered less to their market and more to themselves they’d have managed to produce a far superior record to the one they currently have made.

Moker

 

Haruko - Wild Geese

Don't want to break the 4th wall here but I can't really start reviewing this without mentioning the press release. While most artists fill them with wild claims ('Like the Sex Pistols fighting the Supremes in a sack whilst Beck looks on') , write-ups from the local press ('4/5 - Tewkesbury Advertiser') and shameless name-dropping ('once supported 18 Wheeler' on their 2001 comeback tour'). So to read Susi Stanglow AKA Haruko say, "I really hope you like them because... I am not totally satisfied. I wasn't able to do professional recordings, as you know, so I tried my best with the stuff I had. It was sometimes a little hard since its so cold in my room that i was freezing and there were always noises around so that I had to stop recording sometimes and the mic of my recorder is not so good and - oh my god, so many things" comes as a welcome change.

Which is all extremely heart-warming, but also a bit concerning when an artist starts apologising for the record before you've even heard it. To be honest she's fretting about nothing. The sounds a little rough but nothing your average Joanna Newsom fan couldn't handle. And if this record was pro-tooled to heck it'd be a crime anyway. And its a 'record' more than anything else. This a record of a girl in a room with an acoustic guitar and while once its stopped playing I'm not sure if I'll have any great urge to ever put it on again, it does a better job of evoking an atmosphere and a moment than any other album I can think of. There are 19 songs here, and each one is a sweet, sad nature-folk ditty. Whats impressive is how it never comes across as saccharine or wilfully twee and whimsical either. Its about as slight and fragile as you ever imagine a record being. I kind of want to give her a hug and tell her its going to be ok.

Andy Glynn

 

Theoretical Girl - Divided

'Divided' is the debut release from Southend's Amy Turnnidge, whos already picking up some decent accolades and support slots. Slotting into the space between St Etienne and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Theoretical girl seems to be an exercise introducing classic British pop. Turnnidge's vocals have got a worldly wise, knowing quality about them (not a million miles away form Sarah Nixey of Black Box Recorder) which make songs that could otherwise have sounded a bit twee, come across as the voice of experience talking. Its an extremely lush and summery sounding record with some nice use of flutes and string samples. You can still smell the 'Garageband' on the drums, but it adds to the cheapo indie feel. and stops things from sounding too polished. Which is maybe just as well because by the time you reach the midway point of this record, its in danger of fading into the background. The songs are almost too laid-back and polite. Even the prettiest, most delicate wallpaper is still wallpaper.

So it comes as some relief that on the final stretch of the album, she chooses to mix things up a bit. 'Red Mist' is an unexpected angular rocker which rears its ugly head up midway through the record like Mclusky if they'd gone to a posh finishing school. Its followed by 'Never Good Enough', an uneasy cello-driven ballad which reeks of desperate longing. The run continues with 'Good Timing' which seems custom built for the 'main character's just had some huge revelation' moment in a broadway musical ('Hopelessly Devoted to You basically). In the context of this album, that run of songs is like talking to a quiet, mousy girl at a party and then after 20 minutes suddenly discovering shes into Children of Bodom and BDSM. While Theoretical Girl's schtick might be the indiepop songs, like 'The Biggest Mistake' and 'I Should Have Loved You More', the most interesting moments on this record are the ones where shes operating outside of her safety zone. Its not a perfect album by any means but its got enough striking moments to peak your curiosity and shows this an artist worth keeping your eye on.
www.myspace.com/iamtheoreticalgirl

Andy Glynn

 

James Yorkston & the Big Eye Family Players - Folk songs

Let me just start by saying, folk music can be awesome. Its properly celebratory music, telling tall tales of drinking, shagging and fighting, and by doing the 'music that anyone can play' thing a good, ooh I don't know 500-odd, years before punk - its genuinely democratic. It can be joyous, it can be weepy, and it can occasionally be a bit violent, but its never dull. So why is most people's idea of folk, some CAMRA twat with a lute? How did it become the musical equivalent of Morris dancing? Revivalists spoil everything.

For this album, Scottish singer-songwriter James Yorkston has recorded a covers album of traditional songs from the folk canon. What you think of this album largely depends on how much you cringed while reading that sentence. Call me a blasphemer, but just because something is old, does it necessarily mean it needs keeping for posterity? If you believe that great music should be something you can relate to on some level then theres not a lot for your average punter to identify with in a 15th century folk song. I mean I'm not even sure I can I remember the last time I bought in the sheeves. Its like expecting someone listening in 2309 to understand 'My Humps'.

I can't fault the execution. Yorkstons an excellent singer and the productions very 'hands-off' and natural. Its just the concept I have a problem with. If I'm hearing the words 'To rae aye' in a song, then it had better bloody well be 'Come on Eileen'. And there are some terrible twee songs on this record. Listen to 'Martinmas Time' and try and tell me 'he really sounds like he means it'. Is it even possible to do something like this without it sounding like some sort of ridiculous affectation? Its not really any more of an art statement than those guys who spend their Saturdays re-enacting civil war battles in period costume.

But...

There are some excellent songs too. They're few and far between, but the songs Yorkston's chosen which sidestep the National trust idea of folk music and just get on with telling a story are the ones which save this record. Some themes are timeless. 'I went to visit the roses' is a great little booze-fuelled anecdote that explains why some girls will always fall for the silver-tongued waster. Strip away the flowery language and you've got a Hold Steady song. Meanwhile, 'Little Musgrave' contains as much raw lust as Prince's trousers and warns you that the phrase 'my husband's quite the swordsman' wasn't always a double-entendre. If that doesn't float your boat then 'Mary Connaught' just plain rocks.

In the end you're left with an album that admittedly sounds lovely, but one that was a relic from the second they pressed the CD. There are new stories to tell.
www.jamesyorkston.co.uk

Andy Glynn

 

Belladonna – Hey Weirdo (Vandal)

First impressions are that Belladonna are a disjointed mess. And once you've completed the album, it won't have changed. They're a female two-piece from the North of England, who I've no doubt are strong believers in “girl rock,” however instead of following in the footsteps of The Spice Girls, have decided to release a completely tuneless record; the disk was probably worth more before these tunes were burnt on, and I use the term “tune” lightly. Grimey crunchy bass meets random bleeps meets average double-vocals meets an annoyingly clean drum kit that may or may not be in time. There's a lot of polishing that needs doing, as well as completely re-writing the songs.

The whole feel is just a little bit too dirty, for absolutely no reason.

And none of the songs get anywhere. They fizzle out just as unmemorably as they started. I would say it's a disappointment but what was I really expecting from an album called Hey Weirdo?

Thom Curtis

 

Eskimo Project – Once Around The Sun (Brass Monkey Music)

“Such rare beauty and dexterity” is a phrase which stands out in the literature accompanying this record. I'm not sure where beauty comes into it. To me, beauty speaks of perfectly placed notes, epic sounds, maybe some strings, and a gorgeous vocal that makes you melt. Eskimo Project on the other hand, are a poor man's Toploader. Forget Onka's Big Moka; the proceeds from Once Around The Sun might just be enough for a big mocha for each of the musicians.

Okay so I'm being a little unfair, but beauty isn't the word for this.
It isn't that bad, but it's far from beautiful. Imagine that Toploader and Elbow got together to record an album, and instead of squabbling over which lead singer would perform, they got in someone else. An absolute nobody with an average Joe voice. And there you have Eskimo Project.

Musically, the songs aren't really that bad, but the vocal is a bit too plain, rendering the songs far from interesting as they don't seem to achieve very much at all, and I genuinely believe that this would do a lot better were it to be sent back in time and released about twenty years ago.

It's just a bit cringe really, and a dull waivering vocal that doesn't suit the music at all let's it all down.

Thom Curtis

 

The Xcerts – Live At King Tuts (Xtra Mile)

I think it's fair to say that only fans of bands will buy live albums. If someone just mentioned you should listen to a certain band, it's unlikely you'd start out buying a live album. So when it comes to writing a review of a live album, it should probably be aimed at the people most likely to go out and buy it.

So if you're a fan of The Xcerts, then you're going to enjoy this live album. That's a given. If it was a bad recording, it probably wouldn't be released, so you can guess what you're getting. All but one of the eight tracks feature on The Xcerts debut album In The Cold Wind We Smile, and this live album certainly offers an alternative to catching them in a support slot somewhere around the country. (Although, ahem, Idlewild tour coming up!)

If you aren't a fan of The Xcerts, then you're wasting your time reading this. If you're just reading out of sheer curiosity then, in short, The Xcerts are a scraggly indie rock three-piece from Scotland. There are sudden bursts of energy but I can't help but feel the overall sound is a little bit weak – possibly down to the lead vocal, with its broad Scottish tone. They're almost a cross between fellow Scots Twin Atlantic and Frightened Rabbit, but not quite up to scratch. Despite it all being very musical, it doesn't grab me. Memorable bits are few and far between, and so this transferred into a live album is just an average gig. The crowd seem to be having a good time though. Maybe I'm just a miserable bastard. That is quite likely.

Thom Curtis

 
 

Full Scream Ahead – We Write Our Own Anthems (Sugarshack)

Apparently, Full Scream Ahead are “for fans of: Minus The Bear, The Cure, Foo Fighters.” So already you can imagine the sound, yeah? The perfect melodic structures of The Cure, the intricate wonky twiddles of Minus The Bear, and the raw power of the Foos. Funny then, isn't it, that Full Scream Ahead sound like <insert generic emo-pop band here>, and personally being a fan of the aforementioned bands, I want to switch this off.

The final track, “Stealing Of A Nation” is one of the worst songs I've ever heard in terms of vocals and lyrics. And the preceding five tracks? Well, if I was being nice I'd say I was on the fence. But as I'm not feeling nice today, I'm going to get off the fence and throw empty bottles over the other side.

This is some of the worst amateur emo-pop-nonsense I've ever heard, led by a piercing whimpy vocal that waivers on every note it aims for. Musically, it's the generic backing of a Paramore album.

Thom Curtis

 

The Wow Signal – Infinity’s Lobby

I’ve had this for ages because I was bored with saying I think [band]’s album is bad and I don’t like it. I wanted to come up with something else. But unfortunately this really is just bad rock/grunge (they certainly have a hard-on for Pearl Jam, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing if they didn’t just try to be them). They also pack some pretty cringe worthy lyrics and the worst most parody worthy album title ever.
Awful.
The band can play and the singer can sing. I’m sure we have a pretty similar musical taste. I just don’t want to hear them. So, and I’m sure I’ve written this about many many many bands, The Wow Signal probably have impeccable taste, great skill and probably really mean it. They are, however less than the sum of their parts.
Another shame. Oh I want to be wrong. Tell me I’m wrong. Maybe they’re great. I do not feel it.. This band make me feel sad.

Christopher Carney

 

Chase this City - Show Us What You Got

Chase This City will be releasing their debut mini-album 'Show Us What You Got?' on September 21st, so, and as I'm sure you're eager to find out, just what have they got to show us?

Well, with artwork seemingly inspired by Frank Miller's Sin City, and a press release boasting 'dark slant to the modern punk rock scene', I was expecting Chase This City to resemble such bands as Aiden and My Chemical Romance. Sadly for this writer, the assumptions weren't too far wrong.
Show Us What You Got begins with a medium paced, pop-punk 101 riff straight from the school of Deryck Whibley fame, whilst the rest of the track (read: CD) takes us deep into territory often saturated by the bands aforementioned. This isn't to say that Chase This City don't do those bands, or the respective genre, justice, but that the promised 'slant' could have been somewhat more prominent.

To place these possible shortcomings aside, a few listens to SUWYG did in fact inject a few segments of songs into my humming repertoire. Down & Out, which happens to be tucked away as track 4 on the record, features strong vocal harmonies that even Ian Watkins of Lostprophets would be proud of. Coincidently (well, perhaps not), this may be because Chase This City appear to draw heavy influences from the Welshman.
As well as largely competent vocals, the 6 tracks are ladened with well played instruments including a guitar solo for the song, Loves Overrated, that if you close your eyes just tight enough, (nope, tighter still), you could imagine the axemen from Avenged Sevenfold making a guest appearance. Go on. Give it a try. Black nail varnish an' all.

Show Us What You Got? should contribute towards Chase This City's growing fan base and earn them a fair few gigs along the way. The power chords are present with the octaves layered accordingly. Now, guys, show me some variation.

Lee Swinford

 

Mimes of Wine - Apocalypse Sets In

Occasionally as a budding writer, I'm sent something that really sparks the imagination. Luckily for me, popping Mimes of Wine's latest record, Apocalypse Sets In, into my CD Player did just that.
Now, it would be rude of me not to give you a brief introduction to the artist. Mimes of Wine is a collaborative outfit formed under the song writing and producer talents of Laura Loriga. Apocalypse Sets In is grand, yet it's delicate, it's powerful, but it's intricate. To be honest, it's a lot of everything in between, too.

Each of the ten songs that make up the record feature the piano playing abilities of Loriga. However, accompaniment is the key to keeping Apocalypse Sets In refreshing. Loriga utilises the skills of many other musicians and instruments, including Guitars, Glockenspiels, Trumpets, Violins, Upright Basses, and Cellos to produce varying degrees of timbre.

Apocalypse Sets In is a record that must be absorbed from start to finish. Songs such as Bolivar, and Oberkampf are playfully beautiful, whereas K, and From a Forsaken Bow, are as perhaps as sorrowful as they are compelling. As maybe a loose comparison, Loriga's voice draws similarities to the American folk singer song-writer, Stephanie Dosen, whilst her piano melodies and chord structures wouldn't sound too discomforting on an Eluvium or Sigur Rós record. Perhaps the next statement will later come back to haunt me but the vocal stylings of Julius, which finds itself at the forefront of the album, initially made this writer draw comparisons to some of Björk's more recent efforts. It's that good.

In Apocalypse Sets In, Mimes of Wine have inspired a new fan. I for one will now be keeping a close eye on where it takes them.

Lee Swinford

 

Various: Kerrang! - The Album '09

Oof, it's that time of year again, isn't it? A time when our beloved saviours of all things loud branch out from their magazine, TV, radio, and internet presence to deliver us the “who's who of rock, punk and metal for 2009” straight to our stereos (all for a convenient price of £8.98 on Amazon).
Nevertheless, if like me, you believe that you may have passed the target market age for readers of Kerrang! Magazine, feel free to be as sceptical as I am of their latest compilation release.

Coming in at an impressive 42 tracks, yes, you may feel that you're getting your moneys worth with this double CD package. However, if my teenage relative is anything to go by, the average listener will favour one side a lot more than the other. Disk 1 is primarily made up of pop-punk and radio friendly rock acts that have regularly graced the magazines pages throughout the past year or so, whereas CD 2 is perhaps what the producers of Kerrang's radio and TV channels would dub as 'after the watershed' music. With this in mind, I asked my 16 year old cousin on what she thought of Mastodon's 'Divinations' whilst she was singing along to The All-American Rejects perform their recycled brand of bouncy pop-punk. Surprisingly (or not), I didn't get much more than a reply of 'Who??'. So, it could be argued that the average youngster gazing at an advert in the magazine for the The Album '09 won't be buying 42 tracks, but possibly 21. Who am I to argue with variation, though? Maybe I'm just not down with the kids anymore. I am, nonetheless, down enough to know that Paramore's 'Misery Business' song was released almost two years a go now. Come on Kerrang, move on.

In conclusion, if you regularly read the magazines then you probably have most of this compilations music on your hard-drive/iPod anyway. It's certainly an accurate representation of what the editors of Kerrang have been publishing, but whether it's an accurate portrayal of the best rock released this year is, well, I'll leave that up to the listener.

Lee Swinford