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albums - january 2010


 
 

Position Normal - s/t (Rum Records)

Position Normal are the type of self-consciously clever “found sound” musicians beloved of Resonance FM, overpriced Hoxton clubs and people who live in uber-cool warehouse spaces quietly paid for by Daddy’s trust fund.

I’m sure it’s all very clever. Selling the album on cassette tapes, how ironic! You can hear the tape hiss. Giving the song titles rude names, hilarious! (Swearing, of course, is the last resort of the barrel-scraping, end of the pier comedian). Apparently we should give Position Normal respect for spewing out this derivative hogwash for the last twelve years, as opposed to the bandwagon jumpers who’ve only recently discovered the equation “MySpace + ProTools = Five minutes of fame”. Instead, I can only feel pity. It’s monumentally lazy to produce bad art, repeatedly, over a long period of time.

The self-defensive mechanism used by outsider artists is that critics who don’t like their work just don’t understand it. Yet I understand how this music has been put together. I can appreciate the possibilities created by surreptitiously recording “found sounds” around London and using the samples as a basis for musical works. In some ways that makes this album even more disappointing for me; it aches of missed potential.

This album is not so much a collection of musical tracks as a collection of sounds. There’s no real semblance of melody, rhythm or lyrics – in fact nothing that could be reasonably described as artistic.

The reason The Fall get away with their air of arrogant disdain and wilful obfuscation is that they back it up with flashes of brilliance in the poetry of their lyrics, the majesty of their music and the emotions they create in the listener. Position Normal possess none of these things.

There’s a devastating lack of quality, originality or purpose about this album. Nothing hangs together, the listener isn’t given any meaningful storyline, and there are no decent riffs or ideas for the brain to latch on to. But neither is the album so deliberately obscure as to be interesting on a purely experimental level. It’s just not very good.

There are about 20 or so tracks on this album, all indistinguishable and interchangeable. In a time when a huge variety and quantity of decent music has been made more accessible than ever before, why would anyone bother to listen to this?

Chris Moffatt

 

Blockhead - The Music Scene (Ninja Tunes)

There’s plenty going on in New York hip hop producer Tony Simon’s third album. Each track sounds like the result of a supermarket trolley dash through hip hop’s hinterlands. Melancholy vocal samples compete for attention with haunting strings, funky brass and anvil-heavy beats.

At times it’s a little hard to work out what’s going on, but generally speaking the tracks hold together well. Opener “It’s Raining Clouds” has the polished familiarity of a genre-classic about it, sliding from downtempo to drum and bass without stopping for breath.

The brilliantly titled “Which One Of You Jerks Drank My Arnold Palmer” is epic and spacious, with insistent strings and detuned piano that cleverly worm their way into your head. “Attack The Doctor” is dreamy and fluid, reminiscent of Kasabian in their more psychedelic moments.

Blockhead drops the ball on “The Prettiest Sea Slug”, a repetitive dirge lacking in ideas and ambition, but dramatically ups his game with “The Daily Routine”, a sinister creep around the drug-addled backstreets of the Bronx. If this was a trolley dash, it’s night time, the supermarket’s closed, and the Homepride man’s stalking the Green Giant round the freezer section with a bread knife.

“Tricky Turtle” is a melting pot of p-funk, voodoo chanting and piping snake charmers. The combination of soul vocals, crisp beats and downtempo brass on “Pity Party” is a welcome nod to Gnarls Barkley (remember them?), while “Farewell Spaceman” coasts from NASA-era blues to glittering space rock.

The ancestry of this music can be clearly traced to the likes of DJs Food and Shadow, but that’s not to say that Blockhead isn’t moving things on. Elements of blues, funk, soul, hip hop and rock are thrown into the mix with style and musicality, and the sheer variety of moods and atmospheres on this record should justify a listen.

Like most hip-hop albums it would be no worse off with a little judicious pruning – there are definitely a couple of throwaway tracks here – but overall the album will sit well in the Ninja Tunes canon of cutting edge, high quality music for people who like a little originality with their hip hop.
www.myspace.com/theblockishot

Chris Moffatt

 

The Pony Collaboration - If These are the Good Times

An album that sways between solemn and rawkous accross its ten tracks, the Pony Collaboration's sopomore record is sad, but ultimately hopeful. The lyrics deal with doomed casual relationships of convenience and the boy-girl duet vocals suit the tone perfectly. Lyrics like 'your love is like a kind of grief' sum it up pretty well. This is sad chamber music about people who seem to be realising life hasn't quite worked out the way they wanted. But its far from being a miserable record. Closer 'Home' is a delightful stomp backed by a drunk's choir that offers a bit of redemption.

Andy Glynn

 


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MV & EE - Barn Nova

As is the Beta Band never split up, this album of riffy ramshackle folk is pretty promising but never really delivers. Songs are almost Can sounding slow grooves that build but often don't have any payoff. While any one track taken on ts own is fine, as an album it ends up sounding a bit aimless. Theres a bit too much of the jam band about them and with 3 songs over 6 minutes its pretty hard going.

The annoying thing is that with the influences they show, this could have been a damn good record. Their 'Stoned Americana' sound mixes hints of Alabama 3 with Spiritualised most psych moments. But theres only so much you can do with one riff, and MV & EE have milked those teats till they're sore.

Andy Glynn

 

Sweeney Straddles the Sun - Erect

For an album full of lyrically melodic songs, when Erect opens with ‘Carried Away by Melody’, its discordant horns and droning vocals are playfully at odds with its title. It’s not only here that the music confounds.

As the tracks progress, we pitch from the sweet harmonies of ‘Bwyda Fi Agwedd’ to the social commentary of ‘Castlemilk Town Hall Disco’, with its samples and rapping in a Scottish brogue. We have the straight up rock ‘n’ roll of ‘State of Mind’ juxtaposed with ‘Bunraku Hallucinations’, all muffled vocals over an industrial beat. Even this track cannot stay still and mutates into a mellow groove.

And then, out of nowhere, comes the brilliant ‘HBS’ which plays out like the music to a space age fairground by way of the Clockwork Orange soundtrack.

Considering this is the work of a solo multi-instrumentalist (on ‘I’m My Own Worst Enemy’ he even plays the Stylophone!), the wide range of styles is surprising and the instrumentation impressive. The most obvious comparison would be the Beta Band but this fellow Scot has enough of his own sound to avoid seeming like a carbon copy. It would easily have been possible for such a disparate collection of songs not to hang together as an album but the same spirit remains at the core, threading through each track to produce a coherent whole.

This is a confident, assured debut album played, recorded and produced all by one man. With this amount of talent, surely Sweeney’s star will soon be burning brighter than that sun he’s straddling.

Matt Latham

 


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Neil Mcsweeney - Shoreline

This second album of bluesy scincere acoustic rock ticks all the right boxes for the 'have-guitar-will-travel' singer songwriter, but doesn't necessarly stir the soul. Its a more varied album than his debut throwing Kyussy rockers like 'Time' and the 'Sweet Jane'y' riffing of 'The Break', into the mix. McSweeney has a great husky voice and decent musical chops and at times the record sounds a little like a more well-adjusted Bonnie Prince Billy. Its just that theres no real unique selling point about the guy to mark him out from the crowd of brooding young men with guitars. Hard to criticise but harder to like.

Andy Glynn

 


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Ruby Throat - The Ventriloquist

This record of sugar-sweet country-folk won't be to everyone's tastes, but its undenably heartfelt. Theres no lack of vaguely certifiable waif-women making records today, but The Ventriloquist sits amongst the best of them. Theres an air of menace about the songs, despite being so twinkly and fragile. 'Dear Daniel' is especially lovely. Tori Amos & Bat for Lashes fans might find something here that appeals. Only be reading the accompanying press release would have I ever have guessed that Ruby Throat is the latest project of KatyJane Garside (she of Daisy Chainsaw & Queenadreena). To say this is a departure from her previous stuff is probably a contender for understatement of the century.

Andy Glynn

 


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Pictures of Then – And the Wicked Sea

So, Rage Against the Machine are Christmas number one? Well, good for us. Now we can all go back to sleep for another year. Hey, who knows, next year we could get Cradle of Filth to the Christmas top spot. You know, for a laugh and that.

Not good enough, I’m afraid. Here’s an alternative. For every shite album and single released, we buy another copy of Killing in the Name (stick with me here). Take Pictures of Then, for instance. Are they as bad as that X-factor boy? No. Is that relevant? No. The point is they’re no good. They’re bland, inoffensive, and will never change anyone’s life. So buy a copy of Killing in the Name. In fact, if we can find another thirty-nine versions of the tune, we could have a top forty consisting entirely of ‘fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’. And, if we buy the albums these covers appear on, the top forty albums will be a mix of salsa-tinged and ska-infused fuck you I won’t do what you tell mes.

And why, you ask? Well, if we keep buying the same song in protest over the bland drivel the labels sign up and knock out (not just X-factor, but Coldplay, Keane, and all those insufferable clowns), then surely, the labels will have to change their tact and offer up some passion and inspiration. Imagine it, like the parting of the red sea as Monster Island’s debut album dances up the charts – the lone long player without the aforementioned Killing in the Name in the entire list. Not just Monster Island. Not just albums either. Picture it (Not you, Pictures of Then): in at ten, it’s Biffy Clyro with Killing in the Name, and nine it’s FM Belfast with Killing in the Name, at eight it’s The Middle East with Blood, and at seven it’s The Apples with Killing in the Name. Genius, I’m sure you’ll agree. (And, yes, these are real covers. Research = done.)

So, Pictures of Then, you’ll have noticed, don’t get much of a look in on their own review. My work here is done.

Sean Gregson

 

The Unit Breed – Always Distance the Lonely

I get it, I get it. God, Unit Breed, stop going on at me, you’re preaching to the converted. I like Sonic Youth, honest. Yes, and Mercury Rev. Well... before the shrill fellow took vocal responsibility. And yes (YES, jesus), I like Yo La Tengo and the Flaming Lips. Can I go now? No? You want me to listen to the rest of your album? Well, how many tracks is it?
TEN? Oh, do I ‘ave to?
All right, go on then.

Yep, Operator and Machine, sounds like Yo La Tengo covering Talking Heads (no, but really, is this off More Songs about Buildings and Food, because, if it’s not, someone better get ready for a cast iron court case). Right, next. Believe, wasn’t this once called Rhinoceros and appeared on the Smashing Pumpkins debut? Are you sure? Okay, okay, just asking, jeez. No, you’re right, coz’ that song was a bit catchy and built up to a crescendo, didn’t it. Silly me.

God, this is boring. Is it nearly finished, only if I stare at my navel any longer I may wear away my epidermis leading to a chunk of larger intestine to splay out on to the floor. This is only track five? Fine, if you want me, I’ll be attempting to self-suffocate.

Hold on... Hang on... and wait on. What’s this Unit Breed? This is SUPERB. It sounds like a cover of... oh, it is a cover of Lee Hazelwood’s Sand. That’s quite ironic, isn’t it. Because, like, the rest of your, snort, album sounds like covers, guffaw, yet it’s only when doing a, giggle, cover that you sound any good, titter-titter.

And while I’m being very clever and pity and ironic, how about this one... Sand? Bland, more like.

Sean Gregson

 

Throats - Self Titled

Throats are a band that have been lurking in the UK underground for a while now, with their take on the thrash/hardcore genre they have already gained a decent following in the UK. Though many fans have called them the ‘UK’s Converge’ others believe the band had just completely ripped of the Americans sound. This is all about to change with the release of the new mini album.

The band have slightly changed their sound and vocalist Alex has changed is vocal style so it is not as similar to Jacob Bannon’s anymore. Every song on this new release is played at a million miles an hour but that doesn’t take away the raw talent this band has. Rather than going with the conventional chugging riffs, the band has some very well structured and technical riffs which make them stand out from other bands in the UK.

The band has also seemed to focus more on the ‘hardcore’ aspect of their music, with a lot more breakdowns and gang vocals introduced into their songs. This slight change in style can only mean good things for Throats.

Right from the haunting intro of Wake you can tell that the insane drumming and screaming vocals are going to be something that leads to this bands success. In their press pack for this mini album it states that when the band started a few short years ago they were a mess and it was hard to see this band going anywhere, but now with some decent recordings and some great gigs under their belts the band is ready to lead the UK underground scene. I Think there is no better band to do that and this mini album proves exactly that.

Tim Birkbeck

 


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Hammer No More The Fingers - Looking For Bruce (Inhaler Records)

Heartbreak never sounded as good as this wonderful debut album from a band of childhood friends using music as an antidote to a savage break-up.

Ravishing guitar work that cuts through a waterfall of bass lines and drum beats that reel you into a dark lyrical world of tongue-in-cheek vigour and turmoil. ‘Automobiles’ seems the ideal opener, displaying the band soaring at the top of their game. Feedback frenzy of ‘Nobody Knows’ is a song in praise of ‘carpe diem’, which is without doubt what this band is all about. ‘Fall Down, Play Dead’ is the pick of the album with its witty outlook, crashing cymbals and a crowd pleasing chorus head butting you in the face.

It is hard not to like a drug-addled ode to mushrooms of the magical ability that contains the lyric, ‘just don’t give them to your kids’ as is included in aptly named ‘Mushrooms’. Two minute highlight ‘Nitro’ is a fierce flight of riffs and vigorous drums that will knock the socks off your tiny little feet. Last track ‘I Fell Asleep’ is a musical fit of all the energy that has bounced so beautifully all over this album and appears to be the perfect fit as an ending track.

Distorted, anthemic, and brimming with that fantastic youthful exuberance - this band is certainly on the ‘ones to watch’ list of 2010.

Eloise Quince

 


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Various: Domestic Pop (LOAF Recordings)

With 'Domestic Pop', Lo Recordings offer a surprisingly eclectic and enjoyable sampler of their pressingly experimental electronic acts. Over 14 tracks we get everything from Beta Band indebted electro indie pop (Cursor Miner) and lounge musak (The Black & Whites) to uber lo-fi glitch techno (Van Zit). It's a mixed bag with a large proportion of the tracks on offer sounding more like barely explored ideas than fully fleshed out songs. Much of the material clocks in at just under or just over a minute and as such never really has chance to catch on. It's almost like an album of brief, lazy snapshots randomly pieced together, that's not to say there isn't alot to like about it though.

The legendary Warp Records label has obviously influenced much of Lo's output. There's a more organic link running through much of the material here though, Calin's 'Money Power' for example bristles with the soft-focus, analogue buzz of the BBC radiophonic workshop. There is a genuine DIY punk ethic running through this compilation that I can't help but admire. These songs were all quite obviously recorded in bedroom studios for next to nothing with catatonic casio keyboards and glitch, preset loops the general order of the day. There are flashes of acoustic guitar and even the odd vocal performance but this is primarily basic, pound-shop electronica.

The most surprising aspect of the collection is how varied in quality it manages to be with such similar and basic core components. Gregaldur's title track is so minimalist it's practically redundant whilst with The Chap and Vincent Oliver we get two gloriously vibrant slices of twisted techno, 'Head In The Clouds' in particular sounds like a less glossy Postal Service and has bags of charm. The star of the collection however is undoubtedly OMO's 'Advantage', a subtle, memorably melodic minor masterpiece that is almost the equal to anything off Kraftwerks seminal Computer World album.

Overall then Domestic Pop is a bit of an anomaly, but hey if it teaches us anything it's that sometimes all you need to write a killer pop song is patience, a cheap laptop, and an ancient synthesiser, barely held together by masking tape. 6/10
http://www.l-o-a-f.com

Benjamin Hiorns

 


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Shpongle - Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (Twisted Music)

From the mysterious spoken-word intro to the levitating gentleman on the album cover (courtesy of Storm Thorgerson) it's clear that a dip into Shpongle's world is going to be an unusual journey.

Opener "Electroplasm" plunges you head first into a musical duel between middle eastern harmonies and Indian rhythms. Cut-and-paste vocal samples compete for attention with gently twisting acid basslines. It's grandiose and spacious; in fact, I feel the need to move my speakers a little further apart in order to fully appreciate all ten minutes and twelve seconds of it.

"Shpongolese Spoken Here" explores the glitch-techno landscape of Autechre and Clark before sliding into darker, downbeat dub territory, while still infused with those Eastern influences. "Nothing is Something Worth Doing" tips its hat to Mike Oldfield, before he ran out of ideas.

All of which prepares us for the main event - the stunning title track "Ineffable Mysteries". Difficult to categorise, it combines driving beats, deep basslines, ethereal synth washes and some nifty flute work to produce something extraordinary. You genuinely won't have heard anything quite like this before.

Providing you can get past the lyrics of "I Am You" (think moonbeams, rainbows and other such happy-claptrap) you can concentrate on the astonishingly complex melodies of the second half of the song. There's more creativity in this five minutes of music than most dance musicians can manage across a whole album. At the same time this is still dancefloor friendly stuff; think melodic techno produced with the mindset of a drum and bass artist.

The vocals take the lead on "No Turn Un-Stoned", a woozy early-morning stumble through one of the lesser-known fields at the outskirts of Glastonbury fields. When the vocalist sings "Close your eyes, we can steal from these dreams, reality is ripping at the seams" you actually believe her. Closer "Walking Backwards Through The Cosmic Mirror" sounds like a musical conversation between Osric Tentacles, Royksopp and The Orb. Mind-bending, in a good way.

Don't be put off by the distinctive musty smell of hippy that surrounds this album. It bears many repeated listens and sparkles with true originality. It's time you got Shpongled.

Chris Moffatt

 

L-Mo - 'Got Gumption' (Gumption?)

The initial prognosis is not good. Worst sleeve art of both this year and the next and, y'know, 'Gumption'?. Wasn't that an, er, cleaning fluid? Selling yourself short here L-Mo, your album is in fact a much more listenable piece of work than you appear to want us to think. Spritely guitar riffs, spacey electronics and an engaging vocal style, am I sure Jamiroquai isn't up for a comeback chart attempt? Tuneful, summery, groovily upbeat at it's best, it's altogether the wrong time of year for L-Mo's funked up folk stylee. Re-work that cover art and get back to us in June.
http://l-mo.co.uk

JG

 

Phil Lewis - 'Movement In Space' (LPW)

Again, an album cover can prove deceptive. Expecting a singer-songwriter, and I suppose Phil Lewis must've started out as a solo performer, 'Movement In Space' is in fact a proper full band album, with picture of a slightly nervous looking Phil holding up an acoustic guitar on the reverse sleeve, which does sort of give a misleading impression as to what is actually on the CD. Even more surprising is the actual music. Opener 'Let's Play' is a full-blown stadium rock anthem, eerily 80s in its structure to the point where it actually recalls a Then Jericho b-side, or Roxette without the female vocal. Hardly groundbreaking stuff but it certainly powers along. So, can determinedly recreating a world before rave and ignoring present day trendsd while doing it really result in a worthwhile listening experience? Well, those electronics do sound quite genuinely dated, and the initail kick of the retro-ish production styling does begin to lapse into something a bit workmanlike and less than fully inspired.

I can't quite put a handle onto what Phil Lewis wants to achieve here. His own songwriting is only too often swamped by the large-scale overproduction on songs like 'Shine' and 'It Never Stops' and the overall effect is eventually one of thuddingly two dimensional monotony. What's really needed here is either a more committed rockout or a lot less clutter on the mixing board. You can do it, Phil, just play your own guitar more often.
http://www.phillewisuk.co.uk

JG

 


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Village Green Machine - 'England's Dreaming Spires' (Paisley Arcade)

Whenever bands or songwriters decide to recreate the 60s, they inevitably arrive at similar destinations. Mark Lemons lyrics and vocal instantly recall Syd Barrett, but a very different Syd from the one whose glazed eyed excursions into psychobabble we are already so familiar with. Mark Lemon's Syd is less of a dippy re-teller of invented folk tales and more of a sharp suited scooterist, off on jaunts to Brighton, Devon, the set of Heartbeat and onwards to his eccentric aunties for tea and a fond reminiscence of growing up in a world of pirate radio and cars with tailfins. Which would mean Lemon is in at least his mid-50s if he remembers any of that with clarity, but then the past exists for such projects as the Village Green Machine to make their own sense of.

Of course, you could say the same thing about the 80s, what with all those mods and quiffed-up rockers and repeats of Ready Steady Go that were around up until 1988 or thereabouts. Such is Mark Lemons reverence for the actual 1960s though that it is almost possible to hear what actual songs he and his backing troupe recreate as opposed to what the overall sound of the album is designed to remind us of, although I'd hazard that The Move aren't ever very far from the Lemon turntable. As 60s pastiche goes, 'England's Dreaming Spires' is a lively, quirky and inventive and quite likely to actually find itself playlisted on Brian Matthews saturday morning R2 show.
http://villagegreenmachine.com/
The reviewer wishes to stress that any connection between the 'Village Green Machine' album and the Village Green Garage of Holt (nr. Trowbridge, Wilts) is purely coincidental and in all probability entirely fictitious.
http://www.villagegreengarage.co.uk

JG

 
 

Streetcred – Shit On, Switch Off, Fuck Out

Cash only please. Send your cash to Richard. Yeah, Richard Cool. No, no, cash only, I said. Well, send back the fucking cheque. No, I don’t want it. Cash, cash only.

Streetcred. I mean, honestly. There exists, in the world that you and I go about our day to day, a band called Streetcred. And who, I hear you sob, are this so called Streetcred. Well, they’re perhaps the funniest band on this godforsaken rock. Or I’ve really missed the point.

This band, I kid you not, are utterly shit.

Christ... I’ve just been scouring the internet, in the hope of finding Streetcred’s press release, so you can read the whole thing, and there’s two of the bastards. This other Streetcred have performed alongside Jim Bowen. Like Nick Griffin, then? And their singer is a ‘modern day diva’, whatever that means. God, I wish I was reviewing them instead. Actually, not true. The music is unbearable, but the press release is a work of singular genius. They also want cash, sent to them. By post. Beautiful.

‘Excerpted from an article... in the November 2009 issue of Life and Hope, the monthly parish magazine for Healaugh St. John the Baptist church, with the affiliated churches of Wighill All Saints, Billbrough St James, and Askham Richard St Mary’ – what an opening line to a press release. Streetcred then go on to talk about their new album Shit On, Switch Off, Fuck Out. Well, I say talk about their album, it’s mentioned there about as much as it will be here.

So let’s shoo the music and talk about the boys themselves. Guido Fourchette, Streetcred’s guitarist, is ‘knee-deeply involved in the agricultural disinfectant business.’ However, what with the fall in epidemics of late, the business is a bit flat, ‘it seems either the livestock die, or the agricultural disinfectant sector does’. Clearly, the best punchline to any joke. Nearly. Because the finest gag is left to Streetcred’s fan, real cake and real ale enthusiast, Malcolm Babbage, who says in so few words what has taken me three hundred: ‘While it stretches semantics to call what they do ‘music’, you can’t deny that it is ‘musical’’. Thank you, Malcolm.

So, you thin minded idiots who think that music should be something you enjoy listening to, get your hands in your pockets: Richard Cool, 21 Belmont Gardens, Hartlepool. Send cash.

Epilogue: After listening to Flies are Spies from Hell, I’ve decided to award Streetcred’s album 5/10. At least they sound like they’re enjoying themselves. Album – 5/10 Press release 11/10

Sean Gregson

 
 

Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah the 1st – Mighty Nubian

I really don’t know what to do with this. Really. Mr Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah the 1st (or Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah, to his friends) is a mixed bag of a human being. On the one hand, his production and backing tracks are pretty good. On the other, his rapping is... well, I want to say, it sounds like Clapton’s guitar playing, after he’s been hit with several tranquilizer darts, in the neck, on a particularly slow day.

It’s not just that Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah (or just Grand Hiphop MC, to his mum) is a bit on the slow side, it’s that quite often he seems quite clumsy. Lyrics sound awkward and often spill over, as if there are a few too many syllables. But let’s be honest here, I know I want to be, I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m talking about. But then, that tends to be a lifestyle choice someone else must have made for me in all regards. My relationship with hip hop runs something like this – I like it. I listen to. But do neither very much.

Mr the 1st, however, can’t use this as an excuse. Prime example of the hackneyed lyrics run thus: ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, love the consciousness and self-mastery, it’s the best way to be, believe me, you will love life much better you will see.’ So, right, I mean, I’ve done a lot of self-mastery in my time, but it usually leaves me feeling unloved and, well, not better. But, in all seriousness, you can’t go around rhyming mastery, be, me, and see. That’s crap.

Yet, Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah the 1st (love the fact that there may, at some point, be a Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah the 2nd) has his heart is in the right place. He wants to infuse his spiritual believes with the music that he loves and hats off for that. This doesn’t make up for the fact that I had to sit through a song called Dem Haters. At first, I misread it as Dem Hatters. I was looking forward to an informative rap about the declining British hatting industry. Alas no, it’s about haters. A hater is someone who works for a radio station and doesn’t play Grand Hiphop MC Yeshuah the 1st. My sister works for Key 103, Manchester, and she felt very hurt to be singled out this way. Don’t worry, sis, the CD is in the post. 4/10

Sean Gregson

 

Flies are Spies from Hell – Red Eyes Unravelling

Best band name ever? Quite possibly. Still, that doesn’t make Flies are Spies any more interesting. First off, I love a bit of post-rock, me. In fact, seeing Mogwai in 1998 is still one of the best gigs (and loudest) I’ve ever witnessed. And Youth Movie Soundtrack Strategy produced one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. This, however, isn’t close.

Flies are Spies are less Youth Movie Soundtrack and more Hollywood vampire movie soundtrack. It’s a bit gothic, but not too gothic. It’s a bit loud, but not overly so. And it’s a bit dark, but in a civilized manner. There’s really not a lot to say. Essentially, Flies do what loads and loads of bands have already done. They just don’t do it as well. Not that they’re awful. It’s just... how do you put it? It’s just that I don’t care. I don’t care whether the song is about to crescendo, or that that’s quite a nice guitar effect. I’m bored.

On a plus note, the artwork is incredible, genuinely impressive. And the CD looks nice. It’s got a face on it. Hello, it says. Then it looks at me with its big doe eyes and says, why don’t you like me? And I get all choked up and say things that I usually reserve for girls. Things like it’s not you, it’s me. Even subtext is the same. It’s not me, it’s you. 4/10

Sean Gregson

 


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Katatonia – Night is the New Day (Peaceville)

Holy crap! In ‘Forsaker’ this album opens with one of the best riffs I’ve heard in ages – like a jack hammer thumping into the side of a petrol tanker. But like a metaphor for the album as a whole, after this blockbusting start, the rest falls away slightly disappointingly.

If like me you thought Katatonia were a nineties Welsh indie band then go to the library and check your Kerrangs! instead of your NMEs. Apparently this is Katatonia’s 8th studio album and they have been knocking about since 1991. Originally described as doom metal I think this album sees a departure more towards a spacey even prog metal. There’s no growling vocals here but plenty of symphonic orchestrations and epic sounding tracks. This all makes for a pleasant change i my book but it does sit rather disjointedly with the knee jerking metal moments.

Take ‘The Longest Year’ for example. It nurdles along quite pleasingly for a good 3 minutes of synths and vaguely Spanish guitar arrangements then all of a sudden...bam! Those metal riffs come in again and you think, ‘ yeah, this is good!’. Just as quick it’s gone again. ‘Did it really happen?’

‘Liberation’ is a bit of an exception where the drop down tuning of the chugging guitars are nearly an ever present (though Katatonia can’t resist the temptation to throw in a quick ‘clean’ section.).

There’s plenty of really nice stuff on here and clearly Katatonia are much more complex than your bog standard doom metal merchants. But there’s also a sense that they haven’t quite pulled it off with this album. But I’d certainly have a listen to their next offering to see if they could put the record straight. 6/10
http://katatonia.com

SB

 

Setting Sun - Fantasurreal

The fourth release from indie outfit, Setting Sun, Fantasurreal is singer-songwriter gold. After spending almost a year on the road, Setting Sun frontman, Gary Levitt, spent six months writing and recording his latest 10-track album.

It must’ve been a good trip too; the opening track ‘Driving’ is a upbeat pop-tune with Baba O’Reily-esqe synth keyboard and stomping drums, complete with the rattle of a tambourine (always good). Gary’s vocals are precise, understated and delivered with surety and a vocal tone similar to Donovan, Syd Barrett and even Weezer frontman, River Cuomo (minus his electric guitar).

Throughout, Gary never fails to deliver fantastic hooks, “Don’t get carried away or they’ll carry you away,” sings Gary with harmonies from Erica Quitzow in ‘The Tree’. ‘Sacrifice’ features Erica Quitzow’s haunting strings, some satisfying ‘ohing’ and brilliantly-solid chugging drums.

Gary has provided his listener with a solid set of acoustic, singer-songwriter songs that are brought to life with such careful arrangement and production. Complementing the clever use of synth sounds with live instruments, it’s clear that this is a beautifully arranged and produced album. No qualms about it.

The standout track of the album is undoubtedly, ‘Make You Feel’, with its interwoven harmonies, catchy hook - singing “No-one’s going to make you feel as good as you do” - and punchy brass riff courtesy of a couple of trumpeters. Every song sounds perfectly crafted with the perfect balance between live instrumentation, synth and vocals.

Influences from The Beatles are clear – especially in the likes of ‘The Tree’. But with tracks like ‘Don’t Grow Up’ and cheery ‘Into the Wire’, Gary Levitt’s musical style and tone are more similar to the likes of ex-Easyworld frontman, David Ford with the pop-centricity of Badly Drawn Boy than of the psychedelica promised in title, ‘Fantasurreal’.

A creative renaissance in Gary’s genre between genres? Not sure. It’s definitely as easy to listen to as it, apparently, was for Gary Levitt to make. But with the promise of something, well, ‘Fantasurreal’, the album needed more unpredictability to make it more than another good singer-songwriter release.

Jenny Williams

 


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The Postmarks – Memoirs at the end of the World

Move over, Dusty. At the opening bars of The Postmarks’s new album Memoirs at the End of the World, the sounds of the sixities are reincarnated with all the coolness of indie; the second record from this three-piece deserves to not go unheard.

Why? Nonchalant vocals from chanteuse, Tim Yehezkely grant their 1960s with a distinctively indie vibe. In partnership with fellow band members, Jonathan Wilkins and Christopher Moll, the trio have come up trumps with the sort of musical intelligence and creativity that Burt Bacharach could never have dreamed up.

It’s hard not to imagine famous 1960s cinematic scenes amidst these effortless pop tunes. When ‘Thorn In Your Side’ opens with Bond-style brass, heck, I am Ursula Andress emerging on Jamaican shores in Dr.No.

Although not to fall into the trap of regurgitating the same 60s’ themes, ‘Don’t Know Til You Try’ has a slight euro-pop twang (swear I can hear the Doctor Who theme tune in there). As does ‘For Better...Or Worse’ with its euro-pop-esqe dance backing instrumental, strident strings and Bond-style brass. John Barry eat your heart out.

After the first few songs, I start to think the breathy nonchalance might get a little wearing. But I am wrong. And ‘All You Ever Wanted’ proves it. What I thought was two songs accidently playing at the same time fell into synch and slipped into a dreamlike soirée with similarities to The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper days. More than that, the song ascends into a solid pop hook, “It’s all you ever wanted” – even with xylophone accompaniment. What more could you want? It’s worth buying the album for this track alone.

This is more that a successful re-creation of 60s’ production and homage to cinematic film tunes. From the atmospheric pop to the battered vintage-look CD artwork and the ticking clock at the end of ‘I’m in Deep’, this album is musically interesting and mixing a few genres together to produce something original, politely majestic - surprising, even.

Jenny Williams

 


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Jaga Jazzist - One Armed Bandit (Ninja Tunes)

How to describe Jaga Jazzist? Scandinavian. Layered. Dense. Organic. Forest thick with snow on the surface but buzzing with activity under the canopy. Children’s TV theme tunes. Echoing, glacial landscapes. Humorous, silly, bleak (often in the same song). Festive. Happy. Fiercely intelligent.

Listening to the title track “One Armed Bandit” is a bit like putting your head in a tumble dryer full of tunes, then letting the sounds hit your ears from all directions. Overflowing with ideas, it should be utter chaos but somehow it works. For comparisons, think Tortoise or Cornelius, but concise and bright rather than deeply self-indulgent. Considering that this is the sixth album from the Norwegian band, that’s a pretty impressive thing.

“Bananfleur Overalt”, rather than a superb name for a cocktail, is a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis voyage into spacious prog and gorgeous synths. By rights this should be replacing Royksopp as background music of choice across the BBC by about March.

“220 Vv” brings some bass clarinet into the mix – a sorely underused instrument in most bands these days – while “Toccata” takes the twisted orchestral mindset of Steve Reich and the frittering electronic sounds of Isao Tomita to create a majestic, filmic march. “Prognissekongen” is reminiscent of King Crimson, swinging from blindingly beautiful chords to discordant terror and back again.

“Music! Dance! Drama!” brings Kid A-era Radiohead into the mix, with vibraphone and keyboards tracing a gentle melody over tight drum patterns before guitars and brass rip into the sound.

By “Touch of Evil” I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m struggling for metaphors. There’s so much energy here, so much creativity, it’s like this music is some kind of organic creature that’s reaching tentacles out of my speakers and feeling around the room to inject ideas into every possible space.

It’s heartening to know there are still people out there making music this complex and vital. This is one of the very few occasions when that overused PR cliché – push the boundaries - is right.

Anyone who likes to be challenged by their music, who revels in the experience of a great album revealing its secrets listen after listen like the peeling layers of an onion, will be richly rewarded here.
www.myspace.com/jagajazzist

Chris Moffatt

 

Twizzle vs GreenMoney - Skydiving (Squarepeg Records)

So here’s the biography. 14 year old rapper cuts his teeth on pirate stations around Shepherds Bush before taking freestyle competitions by storm. Goes to Juvenile facility at 16 on drugs charges. On release, decides to put bad-boy history behind him and devote himself to a life of music. Makes mixtapes, gets spotted by half-decent producer. So far, so Eminem.

What Eminem did next was to take the world by storm with a radical collection of shocking, absorbing and deceptively post-modern tunes. What Twizzle has done is create a track of utter bilge, while GreenMoney has pushed the “boring remix” preset on Pro Tools.

I feel like I should make every effort to be positive about this release, in the spirit of supporting local talent. But I can’t, because it’s rubbish. This song is so derivative that Squarepeg Records should probably start paying royalties to all rappers, everywhere, immediately. It’s so mind-numbingly dull that it barely registers on my conscience. Something about “money, money, get my paper” followed by the usual tirade of overtired and overused hip-hop clichés in some random order: I’m so fly, Keep it moving, It’s a way of life, etc. etc.

Surely the worldwide financial crisis has somehow registered with the bling generation? Shouting about how talented and wealthy you are (or more likely, want to be) is pretty tasteless when hundreds of thousands of your fellow people are in debt, unemployed, or at least significantly poorer than they were two years ago. Why has this sort of music not died yet? Will the cold winter kill it off?

Apparently Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw have been “hammering the track on their Radio 1 shows”. If that isn’t reason enough to avoid this utterly, then I don’t know what is.
www.myspace.com/twizzlesg

Chris Moffatt

 


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Radars - Rock Is Not Your Enemy

With a very classic rock sound, Radars have produced a full length that almost takes listeners back to a different time period in music. In a modern era of mediocre releases in the charts it is nice to see a band to keep it simple and release something new.

The one thing about Radars is that even though their music maybe fresh to new listeners, their music is very simple. It consists of simple guitar riffs and drum beats which are topped off with very droned lyrics.

One criticism of Rock Is Not Your Enemy is that every song sounds identical. The whole album just seems to merge into one, it is very hard to distinguish when one song ends and another starts. Even with this simplicity the bands music is very accessible. It is very easy listening.

Radars may not be a know that is on everyone’s itunes but they are one of those bands that you can imagine putting on in the background and just letting it blend into the atmosphere.

Even though the album Rock Is Not Your Enemy is enjoyable to listen to the first time round I cannot see it being one that I will listen to over and over again. It would be an album that would tire very quickly.

Tim Birkbeck

 

Extreme O.D. - This is The End

This aggression filled e.p. from Staffordshire’s Extreme O.D. is a great homage to the bands that have influenced them along the way. Many people think that the generic form of metal is dead, what with all the new deathcore bands around. Extreme O.D. are here to prove this theory wrong.

Their music is really going back to the metal music which was so popular in the 90’s. With meaty guitar riffs and powerful lyrics and even the odd beatdown. In their music you can really hear the influences of such bands as Pantera and Machine Head.

Even if metal is not your cup of tea you have to appreciate how well structured this three track e.p. is. The songs are all of a high quality and they don’t drop off at all. Three songs of pure hate and passion. We could see a new rise in metal in the form of Extreme O.D.

Tim Birkbeck

 


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Yeti Lane – Yeti Lane (Sonic Cathedral)

I’m unsure if anyone’s ever made the pun “Yeti Lane is in my ears and in my eyes” to this Parisian three piece but apologies, I couldn’t resist it. Saying that I’m sure Yeti Lane wouldn’t mind the odd Beatles reference thrown their way, after all the band claim they’ve “focused more on the ‘pop songs’ side of music” and there’s no denying this record is melodic. There are some addictive vocal harmonies and subtle pop hooks hiding within the hushed ten tracks. Yeti Lane could perhaps best described as electric folk or understated, cosy pop.

Opener ‘First Rate Pretender’ sounds distinctly new wave with a satisfyingly pop chorus crowbarred in whilst ‘Think It’s Done’ is a dreamy folk number with duel vocals and an emotional weight to boot. There’s also a distinct electo feel running through their music: ‘Lucky Bag’ is poppy and light with a paradoxically grumbly electronic bassline whilst ‘Lonesome George’ has an irresistible swirling synth propelling the tune forward.

The only criticism to level on this record is its delicacy. Yeti Lane almost do themselves a disservice with how unremarkable they can sound for the transient listener. For example, closing song ‘Heart’s Architecture’ risks appearing dreary and tiresome but the persevering listener will be rewarded with an exploding star of a tune that swerves in and out of melancholy and pop with accompanying vocals that The Beach Boys would be proud of.

Yeti Lane display an overt sophistication in their song writing that’s elusive enough to be missed on initial listens. For all their understatement they triumph in creating pop music that is both accessible and heavy weight. Not one song in this album is throw away, every tune deserves attention. The band manages to convey angst and emotional depth in a restrained manner that avoids diminishing any of the impact of their songs. This record isn’t just a grower; it’s a veritable blossoming giant. 8.5/10
www.myspace.com/yetilane

Moker

 


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Sgt Wolfbanger – Think Inside The Box (S.A.C. Records)

This is an excellent album. It’s a real surprise that the band are from England, because their sound is very American. It’s a little bit Foo Fighters, a little bit REM, a little bit Counting Crows, and seems to have some of the madness of Eels chucked in for good measure. So it’s gratifying to find that we can produce music like this in the UK and for that reason alone this album is worth a listen. Each song has an epic chorus, building beautifully from quiet beginnings, and showing the vocal power of the lead singer perfectly. Listen too to the backing vocals; they’re some of the best I’ve heard in a while. Album opener ‘When I Break A Promise It Shatters’ is ‘emo’ in the best sense of the word – emotional and raw. ‘Ctrl, Alt, Retreat’ is clever without being smug about it, which is my favourite way to be. Album closer ‘Careless Caress’ is so British in its lyrics (about a girl leaving on a train) yet so American in its execution. It’s absolutely fascinating, and well worth a listen.

8/10

 


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Head Of Light Entertainment - 'I Am Liberated' (Northern Round Square)

I still occasionally wonder whatever happened to Momus. I doubt many of you reading this ever even heard of the acerbically inventive Edinburgh songer-songwriter, but think of a mildly bizarre hybrid of Mika and Robbie Williams, produced by Trevor Horn on an 8 track cassette recorder: or Fad Gadget gone acoustic; or the Scottish Jazz Butcher; or Jarvis Cocker as a non-musical news story.

If this is all sounding a bit nostalgic for a late 80s indie heyday that was fatally overshadowed by all that drivelly ravey nonsense, well so are HOLE (gedditt??!!?). Carl Green and Neil Bassett have concocted a quite listenable and literate album, but the 80s are very far from over for these north eastern ironists. Referring to 'property developers who look like Rick Astley' (late 80s Smash Hits pinup boy) - is that then or now we're talking about? And I actually liked 5 'Clock Heroes album so my sympathies are entirely with the victim/subject of 'Poor Agynes', that being model Agynes Deyn, whose state of health I will check up on shortly. But 'Only Take What You Can Catch' is the glumly stentorian advisory at the start of the album and HOLE (I remain dazzled by the levels of wit on display here) never quite overstretch themselves. If David Thomas had been thinner .... if Morrissey had come from Leicester .... watch out Edinburgh, this years Fringe has another pair of buskers to contend with!
http://www.myspace.com/headoflightentertainment

JG

 

We Only Said - We Only Said

The problem with a lot of post-rock, is that, for all its art-y intentions, once you know how its done, you realise its not that difficult. Wonderful though Mogwai are/were, they inspired a generation of beardy young men to buy delay pedals and repeat the same two-chords for 10 minutes, gradually turning the volume up. Theres more to it than just aimless shoegazing surely?

This album's opener 'Our monochrome life' sets all those alarm bells ringing; a riff slowly building in, and repeats, and repeats and repeats as if to say 'Dynamics? Those are for squares'. Much better is 'Driving my car' which follows it, a song which starts on a loopy almost-bluegrass lick before the rhythm section come in and the song changes into something completely different. Its weird, its inventive and its disappointing that so many of the tracks that follow it revert back to the 'math rock for dummies' template. While there is the odd interesting little nugget dotted through this album, you do find yourself ticking off the impressive technical things they do on some kind of mental clipboard ('Atonal chords - check. Creative use of counter-rhythm - check...') rather than actually enjoying the music.

But this isn't supposed to be a hatchet job, its just a hard album to get a grip of. It actually makes far more sense if you think of it as a film soundtrack (where you've got a bit more freedom to let songs meander with no obvious purpose) than judging each song in isolation. While theres no song here that couldn't sit alongside the leading lights of the genre on some sort of mong-out playlist; none of them have that 'oh my god you've got to hear this' quality either. Its an album thats, for the most part, totally competent, but a bit too lacking in moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The closest they come is on the records final three songs (by which point many listeners might have given up on them): 'Killjoy' pulls the old 'false-ending trick, and the band that come roaring back in afterwards, in a burst of Sonic Youth style squealing, sound like a lot more fun. Its followed by '86'd' which has one of those 'everyone in the band gets to shout along' choruses so beloved of Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and their ilk. And closer 'I discover the murder' is the record's most cinematic moment, one where the experimentation they've been fiddling with up to now actually gets attached to a decent song structure. Somewhere, under the shoe-gazing rubble, is a decent, exciting, inventive band, but Christ they need a good editor. 6/10

Andy Glynn

 


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Sarah Macdougall - 'Across The Atlantic' (Copperspine)

From Canada via Stockholm, Sarah Macdougall gets things off to a rumbustious start with 'Ballad Of Sherri', a cantering klezmer piece that had me anticipating all manner of inventions across the next nine tracks. Next song 'Ramblin'' is a bit too much of a style leap to sit really comfortably with the album opener though, it sounds gorgeous but also plods a little too slowly towards what I began to fear was a prematurely MOR conclusion. Not,of course, so: 'Cry Wolf' is a jolly old barndance foottapper, and the rest of the album alternates between fast and slow numbers with near-mechanical regularity.

What really kept me, and quite possibly you, listening to 'Across The Atlantic' is its production quality. It is the most expensive sounding album I've heard for some time, and its guitars, percussion, and Sarah Macdougall herself sound quite stunning. There is a depth and clarity to the sound that you simply don't get using pro tools and the whole thing oozes richness and will make your tinny little stereo sound like a hugely overpriced wall to wall system designed for some billionaire's hideaway in the Maldives. 'Where Do Birds Go To Die?' asks Sarah during the softly wistful 8th track 'I've Got Sorrow', and I know the answer to that one; they go round to your place, Ms Macdougall, where your combination of near perfect diction and sultry phrasing quite probably knocks all those poor little pigeons clean out of their trees. Got a hi-fi store? Put this on and watch your stock practically walk out of your shop.
http://sarahmacdougall.com

JG

 


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Shabby Rogue - By Hook and By Crook

Opening the door to an eclectic concoction of folk, brass bands, surf-pop and despair is an album claiming to be the love child of many a recording session of ‘anxiety, exhaustion and substance abuse’ - this is a musical manifesto not to be messed with.

‘My Future with You’ is grittily twee with a mystical sparkle and downbeat guitars backing a gentle love story. Bravely exploring a disheveled folk outlook with a 60’s Bob Dylan resonance is ‘The Mountain’ and blossoming beauty, ‘Every Light’. A sinister abyss of anxiety and exasperation is discerned in ‘Old Man’, a tension building exercise of percussion and tentative strings.

Switching scenes again, debut single ‘My Life as a Secret Agent’ opens the door to wriggling surf riffs and tinny production, and would fit snugly as theme of the next Bond film. In the same vein is the overcast stomp of ‘Tales from the City’ in which Shabby Rogue would like ‘to see me dance’. And they bloody well can.

‘Hidden in the Yard’ takes an experimental voyage of doomed pianos and condemned cadence before the mind is spun again as ‘Jack in a Box’ arrives with the familiarity of Dad’s old record collection added to an absurdly addictive guitar line. Changeover point ‘Reason’ brings the most incredible riff that flows through the ears and entwines the brain prior to a delicious kick of rock and roll that pierces the bliss perfectly. Title track ‘By Hook and by Crook’ is a throwback to the melancholy Dylan influence showcased at the beginning, with a brass section that would muster a great waterfall from the eyes of the most thick-skinned hard man and not entirely different from Noah and the Whale’s ‘Hold My Hand as I am Lowered’. Ending on a high seems to be what this band are all about with the tragically striking, ‘Chamber of Lights’ bringing the curtain down on a standing ovation.

‘By Hook and By Crook’ is beautifully despondent yet dreadfully exuberant; a staggering excursion of genres and emotions exhibiting how a wish of escape can twist into a tragically troubled masterpiece. 9/10

Eloise Quince

 

Husky Rescue - Ship of Light (Catskills)

Being from Finland probably helps to inspire Husky Rescue to write atmospheric and occasionally bleak music, and Ship of Light could have been penned deliberately to compliment and emphasise our long cold winter. But don’t dismiss this as charmless ambient pastiche because there is depth beneath the breathy vocals, warmth and substance underpinning the production and arrangements.

Wolf Trap Motel for example, is a beautiful song, a chiming, soft soundscape, with subtle brushed drums and quiet keys which gently climax and break out into a melody which could have been lifted from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Dance Troupe, which is a great thing in my opinion.

We Shall Burn Bright sounds a bit like it was co-written by LCD Soundsystem, and for once, the guitars are let loose to fill out the sound a little and the tempo picks up to something approaching ‘rousing’. Then its back to more muted tones to close out the album.

Cohesive and disarmingly charming, this is a wonderful piece of work and I will definitely be seeking out a live show as soon as possible. 8/10

Ian Anderson

 

RM Hubbert - “First & Last” (Ubisano)

Two things immediately grab my attention when I start reading up on RM Hubbert's debut album. Firstly, it's being released via the “pay what you like” model made famous by Radiohead's In Rainbows and secondly, the music will be released under a Creative Commons license.

If you haven't heard of Creative Commons, it a forward thinking set of copyright licenses that place control firmly with the artist and while allowing purchasers of the music to share the original album tracks, providing no charge is made for them. Remixes and reworkings of the tracks are also encouraged. As a concept, it's a brilliant balance of protecting the artist's interests while acknowledging the impossibility of maintaining traditional copyright in the broadband-enabled world.

Having previously worked with the likes of Sebadoh, Nick Cave and Tortoise on the Glasgow DIY scene, Hubbert's first solo effort is an instrumental album of flamenco, samba and taiko guitar. The guitar playing is extraordinary; not just technically brilliant, but full of soul and emotion. Expertly recorded, you can hear every detail of finger on fretboard.

Hey There Mr Bone is an unusual choice of opening track, a short, rhythmic number with plenty of latin percussive guitar work. For Maria gives the listener more of an idea of what to expect of the album, with its almost grunge-like bassline overlaid with some incredibly intricate guitar picking.

The flamenco work is evident on Mrs Saunders – close your eyes and you can imagine you're sipping a cerveza on a terrace as a fierce-looking senorita in a floaty dress puts the world to rights with her fancy footwork. Goodness knows how Hubbert's managed to get this kind of atmosphere in Glasgow (he must take lots of Mediterranean holidays).

By Reference is a more tentative and intriguing journey, while Skyreburn brings Celtic-sounding scales into the mix.

This is a hugely satisfying album from an expert musician. Guitar players will appreciate the technical ability on display, while for anyone else this is the perfect Sunday evening chill out record. I urge you to get hold of a copy, or better still invite RM Hubbert round to play a set in your very own home (he operates a “Will Play For Food” service – see his website for details). San Miguel and tapas all round?
www.rmhubbert.com

Chris Moffatt

 

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM (Because Music)

I was determined to dislike this album as I usually abhor attempts by actors / celebrities to cross over and ‘do a bit a of singing’ because ‘performance is in their blood’ or some other luvvie rubbish. So part of me was disappointed that I couldn’t draw parallels with Juliette Lewis, Keanu Reeves or Paris Hilton’s attempts to forge a pop career. Grudgingly, I have conceded that Charlotte Gainsbourg’s album is quite good.

Having Beck writing the music, on production duties and helping out with the instruments helps liven up what is essentially quite a solid if uninspiring vocal performance, and renders the album diverting, interesting and really quite classy.

There are pop moments, but no sugar-coated sweetness and the lyrics, while a little self consciously off kilter, are at least phonetically pleasing, especially when sung in French. The overall feel is quite retro and Charlotte’s famous father’s stamp is there in places, but there are some great highlights. The strings on Me and Jane Doe hark back to the best that Unkle mustered on Psyence Fiction and the chorus on Time of the Assassins has been stuck in my head for days as has the verse on title track IRM which recounts Charlotte’s time spent under an MRI body scanner following her water skiing accident and brain haemorrhage.

So if you want a varied, grown up, pop album, you could do worse. But if you want to hear an amazing voice, you could do better. 7/10

Ian Anderson

 

Moonshot - “No Sign of Morning” (EML Recordings)

Considering how influential the Pet Shop Boys have been on contemporary pop, it's surprising how few artists give a nod to them in interviews or on the small print of their CD covers. But London-based duo Moonshot wear their PSB hearts firmly on their sleeves, going as far as borrowing a line from “Rent” for their track Gifted which closes with the echoing refrain “I look at the two of us in sympathy”.

If some bands are “lyrics bands” and some are “melodies bands”, these guys are definitely a lyrics band. It's certainly the first time I've heard a singer other than Neil Tennant utter a couplet like “How long must we guard against acceptance/and platonic co-dependance” without a hint of irony. Songs cover geo-politics, city living, self-confidence, fear and beauty, but rarely in a contrived fashion; there are talented lyricists at work here.

The music itself is hypnotic trip-hop with a commercial edge, somewhere between Portishead and pop. Melodies come and go – tracks like Midnight In Dover have a more immediate impact, whereas Point of Focus and Gifted rely more on atmosphere and slowly developing themes than hooks.

The mood of the album is certainly subdued, but there's plenty to occupy the ears. They're let down by minor flaws in production – niggles that any half decent engineer could fix in five minutes in Pro Tools, such as duo vocalists not coming off the beat at the same time, minor vocal tuning issues, and a general lack of audio compression – but they're forgivable in the circumstances of such an absorbing listen.

This record's certainly worth hunting down. Let's hope it does well, so the band can secure a better producer next time round – with a bit of studio spit and polish this could be chart-troubling stuff.
www.myspace.com/moonshotmusic

Chris Moffatt

 

Andrew Vincent - “Rotten Pear” (Kelp Records)

There's nothing inherently wrong with this album, in the same way that there's nothing inherently wrong with Tom Hanks. Both are inoffensive, decent enough at their craft and astonishingly mediocre. The only problem with Tom Hanks is that there are so many better actors out there who could easily do a better job, but through a combination of extraordinary luck, good marketing and a modicum of talent, Hanks secures the roles.

There are hundreds of singer-songwriters doing a better job than Canadian native Andrew Vincent. He's not bad, not bad at all, but why would I want to listen to this stuff when I could listen to Harry Nilsson, Paul Simon, Elliott Smith, or any of the other artists he's clearly plagiarised?

It's too easy to make music these days. Anyone with a few quid to spare can buy a digital multitrack, grab a guitar and suddenly they're the new Neil Young. Except they're not, because their tunes aren't as good, their ideas aren't interesting, the hooks aren't as hooky and the lyrics aren't as smart. Can't they do something useful with their time instead, like helping at a local orphanage or setting up a dog grooming business? Do they have forest fires in Canada?

Apparently Vincent is “hard at work on a PhD” at present. He can't be working that hard if he's got time to keep knocking out these albums.

Is there anything redeeming here? The drumming on Nobody Else sounds like a child hitting some saucepan lids. Going Out Tonight sounds exactly like “Call Me Al”. Life in Canada sounds unbelievably dull if Canadian Dream is anything to go by. By the time the title track comes round, I've started poking myself in the stomach with a pen in order to stay awake.

There are twelve tracks on the CD but each one pretty much merges into the next, a cavalcade of whining, unambitious lo-fi acoustic onanism only briefly redeemed by yet another cover of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.

In summary, it's fairly charming but utterly uninteresting. Like Tom Hanks - pointless.
www.myspace.com/andrewvincentsongs

Chris Moffatt

 
 

Stellarscope - 'This Is Who We Are' (Pateticorecords)

I sometimes wonder why people go to all the trouble of making and recording, then releasing music. Is it my ever advancing sense of cynicism or am I detecting what I can only describe as 'ulterior motives' more often than I did in 2002 or 2008? Bands and solo performers doing things for what can seem as less than the right reasons; releasing pent-up neuroses that are best kept in the discussion group, as a side project related to something much less entertaining or even interesting, taking a dig at someone they fell out with at college 15 years ago, or just because they had the money and didn't know what else to do with it. So I am today very in much in the mood for something a bit real: music that sounds as if its performers are at least interested in what they are doing, let alone inspired and enthusiastic. Step forward, as if by some remarkable coincidence, Stellarscope.

First track 'En El Principo' opens with a screech of feedback and bursts into a remarkable combination of ethereal guitar histrionics and gutter-punch energies, which at over 5 minutes in length, you might wonder how the Philadelphian trio plan to sustain their grindingly anthemic ambience across the full track let alone the entire album, and there are two things Stellarscope do which, while they aren't stunningly original in their own right, are hugely effective when combined: the first is repetitive guitar patterns boosted with an array of effects; sustain and delay counterbalancing competing frequencies. The second is the lo-fi production, all 10 tracks sounding as if they'd been bashed out in someone's garden shed onto a 4 track reel to reel tape during the course of the same grimly overcast summer aftenoon in 1983, and this determinedly back-to-stereo approach provides Stellarscope's sonic symphonies with an edgy backdrop that recalls the second BRMC album, or even a very early Cure demo session. That none of this sounds either nostalgic or even whatever that word 'retro' means is testament to the skill and commitment of Stellarscope themselves, and 'This Is Who We Are' is simultaneously a minor masterpiece of reverberating psychedelia, and a thrill ride of a garage punk inspired guitar album.
http://www.reverbnation.com/stellarscope

JG