albums - february 2010
The 'BBC Sound of' polls have to be some of the greatest self-fulfilling prophecies of all time with music industry 'oracles' telling us what we're going to like over the coming year then standing back to watch it all happen amid the maelstrom of press coverage and radio play that accompanies the top spots. Placing below number 1 however is by no means a guarantee of success with previous non-winners such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Kubb nothing more than rapidly fading memories. Mancunian trio Delphic, third in the 2010 poll, have some serious work to do then to justify the pre-poll hype and post-poll expectations.
As openings go Acolyte has a belter, coming in at just under 3 minutes first track Clarion Call delivers a punchy call to arms and gives more than a little taste of what's to come. Like the best opening tracks it manages to encompass all that Delphic try to accomplish with the record and delivers it up in a bite size portion.
Title track and centre piece Acolyte runs for the best part of 9 minutes, and when I say best part I really mean it. With a quiet, contemplative, opening that meanders steadily through an assortment of the bands influences Acolye is a real treat and something I can't wait to experience live. This sublime instrumental interlude exhibits the best of Delphic's musical abilities and works well as the linchpin around which the record is so lovingly constructed.
Although no tracks are actually bad there are a few which disappoint when held to the high standard that Delphic have set themselves with this record. The lightweight and so obviously 'radio-ready' Doubt is one such track which, along with Red Lights, make for the low points on what is otherwise a well crafted début. Singles Counterpoint and This Momentary take on a different guise when part of an album but still shine through and, if Delphic become the festival hit this summer that most expect, these will be the tracks that spark that success.
The real stand outs though come towards the end of the record. The euphoric anthem Halcyon lifts the spirits imprinting its chorus on your Cerebral Cortex in a slightly apologetic way and final track Remain is the archetypal laid-back ending gently drifting away from you as the record draws to a close.
If nothing else Acolyte shows the enormous potential that Delphic have, it's not the finished article but no début album should be, neither will it be the sole sound of 2010 but this indie-dance outfit has definitely set the bar high for their fellow Sound of 2010 nominees and if this is the standard we can come to expect then it's likely to be a very good year for new music.
Anyone who's read his autobiography 'Things The Grandchildren Should Know' will know that Mark Oliver Everett (otherwise known as 'E', the sole permanent member Eels) has had far from an easy life. His father was a genius physicist who invented the theory of multiple worlds, his mother suffered with depression and his sister struggled with substance abuse before successfully killing herself on the second attempt. Add to this the man's personal demons and numerous label disputes and you have a character who has every right to be upset and pissed off with the world.
Most songs barely reach past the 3 minute mark and work primarily as brief snapshots of the fallout following the end of a relationship. The album starts rather fittingly with the start of the relationship with the wistful 'The Beginning' ("everything was beautiful and free in the beginning") and ends up with the epic misery of 'On My Feet' ("I miss falling asleep with your arms around me"). The in-between ranges from surprisingly upbeat blues-rock ('Gone Man', 'Paradise Blues') to sparse piano balladry ('A Line In The Dirt') but the overriding tone of the album very much brings to mind Bruce Springsteen's harrowing 'Nebraska' with many of it's sparse songs built around little more than Everett and a battered acoustic guitar with the odd inflection of organ and bass.
Nearly everything here works as part of a body of work and there's
a real emotional directness with which E conduct's himself which no
other artist can really match. The overbearing misery on display might
be too much many and some may lament the self-pitying melodrama, but
self-pitying melodrama is what Eels are all about and if you can't
get with the programme your in the wrong place. 8/10
It doesn't get more oddball than this. Here, beautifully produced and epic pop is offered up by Oh No Ono on their new album 'Eggs'. This crazy record - sounding like a dream you'd have if you fell asleep whilst watching Disney's Fantasia whilst your Dad was playing his 70s records in the next room – is a crazy mix of experimentation, layering, catchy hooks and giant helpings of harmonic nostalgia that create an psychedelic landscape so three-dimensional you can almost touch it.
Songs such as 'Helplessly Young' have the spacey charm of the later works by The Beatles whilst 'Icicles' is indicative of Supertamp or Kate Bush and 'The Wave Ballet' is a choir-backed MGMT affair with a falsetto vocal that Barry Gibb would be proud of. Yet don't let the 70's references mislead, this album is a fresh as tomorrow morning. Whilst Oh No Ono clearly draw heavily upon their influences, they still manage to produce vigorous and fresh pop songs. 'M*ss M*ss Moss' is jutting major chords and swirling sitars which accompanies an anthemic vocal line that even the catatonic couldn't resist clapping to; and just when it seems the twee factor is reaching saturation point, the somber Tindersticks style 'Eve' plays and switches on an level of emotion you'd all but ruled out for this album, whilst 10 minute closer 'Beelitz' manages to raise the bar when it seems there is nowhere left to go.
This record has the ability to leave listeners awe struck at a hundred
yards. The whole thing is so ludicrous that it will make you question
what it genius and what is madness. But therein lies its brilliance:
it is an ever shifting target, an almost organic album that grows
and mutates at every listen. It's less of a rollercoaster ride and
more of a disembodied plunge into another reality; there's a childlike
excitement in listening to it. Positively addictive, endlessly complex,
completely preposterous and slightly magical, 'Eggs' must be heard
to be believed. Very highly recommended. 9/10
Surrey boys done good, You Me At Six burst onto the UK scene just under three years ago. Ever since this moment the bands popularity has just risen more then they could have ever imagined. They are living proof that catchy songs and myspace really can make you successful.
After the success of Take Off Your Colours it was obvious that even if the follow up album the band did was rubbish, all the screaming teenage girls that adore them will still rush out to buy it.
It is a pleasant surprise that You Me At Six have taken a more serious approach to their music with Hold Me Down. They have obviously stuck with their scene pop sound which made them famous, but their lyrics and songs aren’t as cheesy as previous releases.
The type of music that You Me At Six produce is never going to appeal to people over the age of 25 generally and they know that. This is one this Hold Me Down proves. The band knows what their target audience is and they aim their music towards that demographic.
Having got ride of some of the cheesy tunes which appeared on Take Off Your Colours, You Me At Six have produced so really good songs on Hold Me Down. The slow melody of closing track Fireworks really shows that You Me At Six have matured in their sound for the better.
Having already achieved almost everything most bands ever dream of doing it is hard to see how things can get any better for You Me At Six. Now with a second full length under their belts 2010 stands to be the year of You Me At Six.
As one of the UK’s break through acts in 2008 We Are The Ocean have managed to ride off the success of their self titled ep for a whole year. Now they have finally recorded and released their first full length.
Maybe people have compared the north London band to Alexisonfire and it is clear to see why, with their heavy vocals mixed beautifully with melodic choruses. In my opinion they are nowhere as good as the great Alexisonfire, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t a good band. They have some striking riffs and very catchy lyrics that will have fans singing along with them.
One thing that I don’t think is great about We Are The Ocean is that the melodic vocals are so much better than the heavy parts. There are even occasions where the heavy vocals don’t really seem necessary.
Putting this aside you can tell that UK crowds are going to go mad for this new album. Each song holding something a bit different rather than just heavy riff, melodic riff and repeat. Having already had their self titled ep sell out, and tour the UK on a sold out headline tour it is no surprise that We Are The Ocean are set for big things in 2010.
The album may not be a stand out as far as new releases are concerned, especially with the release of You Me At Six’s new album getting all the publicity. But there are some great stand out tracks. Tracks like Confessions and This Is Called My Home show exactly how much We Are The Ocean have developed in such a short period.
The crackling static and distant drones which open Blackpool native Benjamin Shaw's debut EP had me fully expecting something significantly stranger than what was to unfold over the next 30 minutes. That brief, avant-garde introduction is something of a red-herring though as Shaw spends the next 25 minutes winding darkly alluring, lo-fi ballads around subtle arrangements in a manner which recalls the earliest recordings of Conor Oberst or Sparklehorse more than anything.
Shaw wraps literate lyrics with some striking and distressing imagery ("I hope all these people collapse in the rain") around sparse, fuzzy instrumentation and simple arrangements which would seem a little dull if it wasn't for the unique edge. This edge is brought into focus even further on the proceeding tracks as '2,000 Sentinels' sees Shaw channelling Tom Waits with a funeral piano arrangement buried beneath mountains of reverb and found sound. It's a lovely little song which is perfectly of-set by the comparatively epic 'Chocolate Girl', a song which builds from humble beginnings into a swirling mesh or sound. 'The Carpeteer' and the title track let the side down a bit as both seem underwritten but 'When I Fell Over In The City' more than makes up for both; a classic folk-stomper given Shaw's trademark make-over (or should that be make-under?).
It's refreshing to hear a 'singer-songwriter' who obviously isn't
happy with the connotations that tag would bestow upon him. He's fighting
to find his own voice in a sea of tepid waters soiled by the likes
of James's Morrison and Blunt and the bleak atmosphere he manages
to mine at times manages to match the epic sadness of Bon Iver. He
might not have a great voice and his appeal may well be rather selective
but this kind of care-free artistic abandon should surely be encouraged
in an age of cynical, ironic fads, cookie-cutter singer-songwriters
and clinical, kitsch electro-pop. 7/10
Nosferatu D2 - We're gonna walk around this city with our headphones on to block out the noise (Anti-Hero Records)
Talk about your belated releases! Nosferatu D2's first (and sadly last) album was finally released back in 2009 having spent 2 years gathering dust on the shelf (since the band of brothers Ben and Adam Parker decided to call it a day back in March 2007). Finally Audio Anti-Hero have decided (out of their own pocket) to give the record a full release and I can honestly say it was money well spent! Helped in no small part by the fan-boy worship bestowed upon them by fellow noise-niks Los Campesinos, Nosferatu D2 have delivered an album that dispels any bullshit romantic notion or underground hype, it's simply a great record.
The reason it works is quite frankly because the two brothers play off each other so well. Adam's tight as fuck, almost metal rhythms are complimented perfectly by Ben's fractured, de-tuned guitar and world weary vocals. Lets be honest the man can't sing (that never stopped Mark E Smith or Stephen Malkmus though did it?) but that's almost superficial as what we have here is more street poetry than conventional tunes. The lyrics are truly astounding, taking the bizarre, free-form lines of Frank Black or Issac Brock and marrying them to bitter, very british truths (everything from Wetherspoon's to Mojo magazine is name-checked) with an acerbic wit which borders on the genius.
Musically it's about as basic as you can get with just the twang
and thump of the brothers guitar and drum assault filling in space
between the words, but in all honesty anything more would probably
ruin it. It's an acquired taste for sure and there's nothing here
that could really be mistaken for a 'hook' but that's surely missing
the point. After a few spins, once the unsettling juxtaposition of
the simple music and hysterically complicated lyrics have meshed into
your consciousness you'll just be glad that labels still exist that
are willing to put out music this confrontational, daring and hypnotic.
I was discussing music and religion with an acquaintance a day or
two ago, and something that came up in the conversation was unavoidably,
the Jesus & Mary Chain, and I mentioned that while it seems that
very few bands/vocalists ever really refer to either God or Jesus
in their lyrics nowadays, it can also seem that the JAMC went some
way towards defining exactly what kind of band is actually able to
use religious imagery while retaining any level of artistic credibility.
So, Scary Mansion, purveyors of feedback tinged fuzzed up epic garage
pop anthems, and managed by a PR company called 'God Don't Like It'.
I nearly didn't open the CD cover. A pale grey envelope printed with
a picture of a monochromatic December sun setting behind a pine tree.
'Happy Winter Solstice' says performance artist Jasmine Dreame Wagner,
and I was a bit concerned that I might tear her thoughtfully constructed
endeavour to pieces without so much as even listening to it. Ten minutes
later, and the most imaginitvely packaged album I remember receiving
since I found an original pressing of Alice Cooper's 'School's Out'
(find a copy, it was a bit clever) had yielded its silver disc into
my hands, and onto my stereo.
Rick, we need a surname. It's a weirdly great album you've made,
the mix of instrumentation and sampling is of a kind that doesn't
always really come off but that winter you spent recovering from the
accident you had that laid you up, unable to walk and turning to music
as therapy while you re-learned basic ambulatory skills and tuned
your old guitars up, that wasn't time wasted, matter of fact I'd say
it was a lucky break really, wasn't it, or rather I would say that
except that I expect you'd probably try to kick me, if you could.
There's nothing quite like plaster on your legs to inspire and enthuse
musicianship, to help put together a sound collage, in fact it comes
across as effortless,manages to avoid repeating itself, isn't too
noisy or laid back, in fact it'd make for great background music for
something, like a Channel 4 programme announcement or a short film
about clouds. Trouble is, Rick, your anonymity makes me a little wary
of really recommending your album to anyone, in fact I suspect that
there are in fact more than one of you, or that you are an industry
name who mistakenly thinks that we'd laugh or turn our noses up if
we found out who you really are and so it's just 'Rick' then, but
I find that hugely irritating, given the quality of your album. How
about 'Rick Martin'? that's got a bit of 'zing' to it, doesn't it,
or even better, 'Ricky Martin' ..... er..... wait a minute, wasn't
that the 'Vida Loca' guy? It's still a great album, 'Rick' but that
title, how about 'My Life Immersed In A Phone Directory'? Oh right,
it's 'Senley', look I am sorry, I'll re-do that. You know, for a minute
I really thought you were the Aphex Twin relaunching under a more
I’ll start off by nailing my colours to the mast – I really like Neck and have done for a while. I love Irish/Celtic punk and this is the heavy side of it, more like the more raucous Flogging Molly than the softer ballads of The Pogues. This album includes the anti-racist “Everybody’s Welcome To The Hooley”, and I appreciate the politics of this, which is something that Celtic punk bands do excellently (see “Screaming At The Wailing Wall” by the afore-mentioned Flogging Molly), even though it’s slightly out of place among the rest of the album. On slower songs such as “The Homes of Donegal” the lead singer’s voice positively drips with the pain and weight of his words.
There are 6 members of this band and you can tell – the fullness really shows. The album gallops at top speed and rarely catches its breath. There are other, similar, bands doing it somehow better, but there aren’t many anymore doing it with so much fun. 9/10
And now for something completely different. The Irrepressibles are a collective of musicians led by gifted countertenor, composer and performance artist Jamie McDermott and have been causing quite a stir around the capital of late. Their sound has been likened to that of David Bowie and Kate Bush but personally I hear neither in their debut album 'Mirror Mirror', at least not in abundance anyway. The reference points I hear are the towering majesty of Scott Walkers '4' album or the camp, artistically daring, thoroughly OTT musings of Tiger Lilies.
McDermott's vocals linger somewhere between the histrionic warblings of Anthony Hegarty and the sheer theatricality of Jeff Buckley. In other words the man has a cracking set of pipes which manage to prove the perfect vessel in which to channel these epic, baroque pop songs which at times can get so silly they might even make the Tiger Lilies blush! Backed by a 10-piece orchestra, McDermott has performed inside a giant music-box, floating in the middle of a lake and in a roman amphitheatre, blurring the boundaries between pop music and performance art in a manner which poseurs like Lady Gaga could only dream.
Opener 'My Friend Jo' serves as a perfect introduction to McDermott's Technicolor world, a sharp shock to the senses with the violent string stabs of the chorus off-set by their sighing counter-parts in the verses as McDermott wails cryptic wordplay over a bed of extraordinary sonic explorations. It manages to balance the decadence of Scott Walker with the immediacy of Rufus Wainwright and sets up and album which will musically reference everyone from Tom Waits ('Ill Maybe Let You) to Jacques Brel (the faultless closing hymn 'In This Shirt').
It's a remarkably varied album too with the wild, harried strings
of the dramatic 'Splish, Splash Sploo!' fading into the sparse, understated
misery of 'The Tide' and 'My Witness' and 'Forget The Past' both building
from humble beginnings into spiralling works of wonder. There isn't
really a duffer in the bunch and as such I struggle to find anything
even remotely negative to comment on. A truly remarkable group who
shouldn't be Britains best kept secret much longer. 9/10
A nightmarish collage of industrial samples and distorted synths burst forth from the speakers like a swarm of locusts as broken beats, harshly altered found-sounds and vocal samples clip in and out of focus like strangers lost in the dangerous musical noise-scape which is 'I Am A Man With A St Tropez Tan'. Of course this is just the first track as after the initial shock of opener 'I Like Your Mouth' the man born Rick Senley settles into more of a traditional, beat-centric mould favoured by everyone from Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers to Four Tet and Burial.
Elements of that strange, twisted opener remain however (be it in the distant, atonal piano of 'Happiest Smile Of The Year' or the distorted, layered vocal samples of 'Homage') and Senley never lets the listener relax, constantly keeping us guessing when the aura of calm will fade to reveal the dark beast underneath. It's an odd record for sure then but it's not as impenetrable as one would initially expect. 'Get Off, I Will Kill You' layers sparse piano and wobbly strings underneath rolling beats which are actually almost danceable and the way 'Growl' manages to combine drone-doom guitars and atmospherics with wobbly, high-pitched synths is almost genius. And of course there are hooks with the stone-washed calm of 'F' and it's brash, tinny guitars almost sounding like a lost Pink Floyd song. It shouldn't work at-all but it really does.
In fact that phrase could quite adequately sum up the album (and
the man himself) as a whole. Here hazy, avant-electronica fuses effortlessly
with ambient guitar noodlings and the effect is often entrancing.
Of course it doesn't always work ('A Nightclub' and 'How Many Days
Do We Have Left' are essentially ideas in search of a song and even
the best tracks here sometimes suffer from being a little too complicated
for their own good) but the clattering, fuzzy, beautiful, haunted
beast that is 'Ignorance Is No Defence' is worth the price of admission
alone and music this unique deserves an audience. 7/10
Christian Hardcore... oh dear has it really come to this people? Ok so it's bad yes, but honestly not half as bad as it has every right to be, and of course it should be pointed out that I'm in no way discussing what would no doubt be an incredibly hypocritical and bizarre fringe genre of pornography. The 'yay we love Christ' lyrics aside this is pretty typical American hardcore really with all the trimmings. So we get grinding, metal guitars, break-neck punk rhythms and an equal mixture of melodic and aggressive vocals (the aggressive vocals are a joke though with the lead performance on 'New Empire' in particular coming across like a drunken Beastie Boy).
Songs bleed into each other with only the occasional change in tempo
(the gurning, slow-burn of 'Lost Generation' and the almost grind-core
intensity of 'Minneapolis') marking the transitions between tracks
and by the end of it, most sane listeners will be looking at their
watches despite the albums meagre 26 minute running time. Only the
closing 'The End Of Apathy' really ignites any passion with it's intertwined
guitar patterns and epic, sweeping rhythms. This is the direction
Take It Back need to take if they want to stand any chance of not
simply being swept away with the tide. 3/10
Peter Loveday has had a long journey to his current album; starting his music career back in 1978 Loveday has spent many years touring in bands across Australia and England. He finally went solo with his first album in 2002 (‘A bend in the road’) His latest release is ‘Standard Ideal’ and is Loveday’s 5th album, recorded live in Barcelona in 2009.
This album is a collection of 10 original tracks which combine vocals with classic guitar, percussion, flute, violin, piano, bass and pedal steel in a rich blend of sound which shows off not only the talent of the players but also the beauty of the instruments.
A modern twist on traditional Barcelona music, Loveday has blended an album that any folky would love without over-powering the listener with any of the instruments. The slight accent of Loveday’s origins suits the music and is accompanied greatly but the backing vocals of Sarah Davidson, Andy Gemmell and Naomi Wedman.
This album is a relaxing mix of upbeat folk and modern acoustic
music in keeping with Loveday’s previous style but still satisfyingly
different to make this latest album an asset to anyone’s collection.
Loveday has a great way of making you feel like you are sat outside in the European sun with a light breeze blowing and a cold beer in hand, letting the warmth flow over your skin.
I think, for me, track three sums up a lot of the album, as I listen to it wrapped up warm in my small cold room on this winter day, Loveday’s lyrics really stand out and set up the album “look up above, let you be, let you be my love, be my guiding light.”
After Poostosh came onto the music scene in 2002 they’ve released three CDs to date, their latest being ‘Herbarium’. This Moscow based group took their name from the Russian word for uncultivated plot or heath, Mikahail Salnikov, a member of the band, holds the recording label Untime Records which produces all of Poostosh’s music.
This album definitely needs a few listens to even begin to hear the complexity of the music. It is a hard style to put into a genre, there is obviously a lot of influences on the band, namely a high amount of folk from right across the world. There is also a modern electronic feel to the music with the clever use of synthesising mixing in with the traditional instruments. The music seems to have no true direction but it works well, it is as if you are being let into one of their pre recording sessions of experimentation, you know the type where the band are just playing around with everyone’s own styles but strangely it works perfectly!
The mix on some of the tracks is definitely worth picking out. The album begins with ‘Overjoyed to hear the new Poostosh album’ an almost Yann Tiersen-esque, French-feeling piece which is mixed with spoken word and disc scratching bringing the whole feel of the piece into the here and now without modernising any of the playing styles of the classic instruments. Track three, ‘Rain DPRSSN’ has the same feel as a Massive Attack track that lingers in your mind, though just when you think vocals will cut in another level is added whether through the synthesiser or as an effect, it’s like a more abstract version of Massive Attack, beautifully complex in a reliably melodic style.
A lot of the music reminds me of 70s style fantasy films with an eerie surreal level to the music created by the intertwined styles of the musicians and instruments and techniques used. (Track 2, 8 and 14 in particular)
The more I listen the more I can hear from this album not only in the music itself but also in other music, everything from modern pop such as Gorillazs to traditional Indian folk to the strong French theme that flows through a lot of the pieces and ending in a wonderful cohesion of classic piano playing and computer technology that in some ways sums up the album showing the skill of the band as classical artists as well as technical craftsmen.
This one is definitely a grower, please don’t dismiss it on first listen, well ok first, second and maybe third, like I almost did (which I am still annoyed at myself for!) Give it some time and once you get it, it will be hard to not listen to it on a regular basis.
Arch Garrison is a composer, conductor and musician. He is in charge of the North Sea Radio Orchestra. This album, a collection of 11 tracks, is a solo endeavour but features vocals from his wife Sharron Fortnam.
Straight away you can hear Garrison’s unique style of guitar plucking which suits only a few musicians including the famous Nick Drake who you can tell has been a large influence on Garrison style. This album has its feet firmly based in traditional folk with an almost medieval musical style to some of the tracks, in particular ‘Thames fluvius’. Sharron’s voice suits the music in keeping with the traditional folk feel; I feel track 6 could easily slide onto the soundtrack to ‘The wicker Man’ reminding me particularly of ‘maypole’.
For me I felt that the instrumental pieces on the album actually stood out more than that of those with Garrison’s vocals. I enjoyed the album but nothing really jumped out as being wholly different or original. Having said that, ‘King o the Down’, the title track is beautiful, it ebbs and flows just like a river and almost takes you through the seasons of the country side.
“A wheezing dog and a crackling fire” were the backdrop to this album and I really think you can tell, its just a tiny bit too melodic and relaxed for my liking (though it would slide in happily to anyone’s folk collection). The instrumental pieces were great and you can see that Garrison is a great composer, conductor and musician I just feel his strongest skills are that of instruments, I do love Sharron’s voice and I feel that it suits the music very, well highlighted best in ‘Roman Road’.
There's nothing quite like a good intro to gain a listeners interest,
and 'The Best Treasure Stays Buried' certainly has that. A garbled
medley of tape loops runs into some sonorously elegaic guitar chords
and Kim Moore's vocal brings the track to blissful life. Simultaneously
minmal and complex, tuneful and discordant, the paradoxes at the heart
of Zoey Van Goey are apparent from the very outset, and the trio will
definitely gain your attention.
I don't know too much about Adrian Crowley apart from that he is
based in Dublin, but I've made a bit of an assumption, that he started
out as an open-mic singer songwriter, a 6 string folksy type, at some
point in his past. Definitely some well-practised guitar at work on
'Season Of The Sparks' but the album is for the most part dominated
by keyboards and the only word for the ten tracks here, the only really
accurate description I can think of were I required to come up with
a one word precis of the entire album, is 'lush'. Starting with an
aery jaunt along 'Summer Haze Parade', the album has the feel of something
of a conceptual work, set perhaps in some semi-fictitious market town
on a very warm August day, with apples dropping from the trees and
dragonflies hovering contentedly amongst the ferns, and Adrian Crowley
evokes his pastoral symphony with some not inconsiderable skill. The
soaring intro to 'The Wishing Seat' owes more to 70s prog rock than
to Crowley's probable folk origins, while 'Liberty Stream' has the
unforced, laid back energies of soft jazz. It's only final track 'Pay
No Mind (To The Dawn Cryer)' that really indicates where Crowley's
music really springs from. Ultimately, 'Season Of The Sparks' is practically
unclassifiable and a work of some considerable merit. One of the best
ever from Chemikal Underground, certainly.
No way is that the real Howard Hughes. The announcer doing the intro
to 'Plan Nub' did in fact die in 1975 or something, if memory serves,
but let's not allow historical fact to get in the way of a proper
feast of pure indie pop lunacy (says the press release). So, by the
time we get to 'Billy Childish Enters The Space Race', reality has
taken a very large raincheck and it does in fact sound as if the Pocket
Gods would prefer that Billy stayed on earth. 'We're all just puppets
in his mad little dream' sings Mark Lee, and quite a few of you might
think about going home early at this point, but don't, the Pocket
Gods are only just getting their lo-fi sci-fi roadshow out of the
garage. 'Perfect Blue' is practically a cover of the Only One's 'Another
Girl Another Planet', 'In Nub Country' is REM fronted by Frank Sidebottom,
'Compensation Car' is a drunk Oasis minus Liam, 'Telstar Gurl' is
the Ramones with a tune, and there are 16 tracks on 'Plan Nub' so
you get the idea that Mark, Anne and Claire (there is something a
touch anonymous about them) are absolutely brimming with ideas and
only their studio budget prevented 'Plan Nub' from turning into something
like 'Sandinista' except with more jokes, and you might find yourself
wishing that the Pocket Gods would 1) get a bit more serious and 2)
learn to draw so that their sleeve was actually legible, but that
would of course detract from the wayward charm of much of the music,
and I wouldn't want to do that.
I'm becoming convinced that you should NEVER read the promo. It may make you like the people involved. The members of Porcupine like Fender Jazzmasters, sparkly Ludwig Drums, melody, feedback, fuzz and Godzilla movies. I enjoy all of those things. And that can be a problem when you then have to write a review because what they like is no guarentee of quality. Let me give you an example: Kiss-like make-up and explosions are, undeniably, awesome. Insane Clown Posse like make-up and explosions too, and they are a form of torture. It can go either way.
Infuriatingly Porcupine are neither awesome nor awful. They're not bad, they're a bit dull and it took me a lot of listening before I could think of anything to say about them and then it was some pretty banal cliche about things seeming like fun. Oh,I don't know anymore.
Maybe I'm sad that I'm blase about off kilter, alt-rock bands with nice hooks and sparkly choruses. If that's the case I'm the problem.
I don't think I am. Porcupine are OK and I've had enough of OK. I no longer have time for OK.
Maybe I just don't like this genre any more? Oh, wait, I do. I still listen to the Foo Fighters, The Pixies, Sonic Youth and tons of other stuff. Listening to this makes me want to listen to Everclear and be in college. So now I'm all nostalgic and better disposed towards this album. Not least because it gets better as it goes along - in fact it becomes much better, if you get this album start listening around track 4, the last 4 tracks in particular are actually really good, they have a sort of kinder, gentler less angry Foo Fighters with better chord changes-vibe. Then, completely out of nowhere they start sounding more and more like QOTSA. Cliff Diver being as near as they get. It startled the life out of me because it's all of a sudden REALLY good The only problem then is that you'll wear the goodwill out by going back to the start and listening to the really dull songs.
Porcupine are worth your time, if you have a lot of time.
The best music can lift you out of your everyday life and transport you somewhere else. If I close my eyes while listening to Sienna, I can almost imagine I'm in a trendy wine bar in the financial district. A group of marketing managers guffaw in the corner while the barman eyes me dissapprovingly. Undetered I order a San Miguel and its 4 quid...
Yes Sienna are lounge, chill-out, coffee-table, call it what you will. Music that by its very nature isn't supposed to attract your attention, but instead act like sonic wallpaper. Music to be talked over. In that respect it does everything it set out to do, its just that its very hard to find anything interesting to say about it. The vocals are quite nice, I'll give them that, all husky and Marieanne Faithfull-y. If you squint your ears you could almost be listening to Boards of Canada, allbiet a Boards of Canada buried within 6 inches of cotton wool.
As the records progresses there are a few weirder moments: some cut-up, glitchy beats and some nice atmospherics.'Garden of Nostalgia' could almost be off the Cure's 'Disintergration'. Its slightly more interesting than Zero 7, I suppose. I think they call that 'damning with faint praise'. 3/10
Its hard to know where the Love Supremes fit in. They label themselves Krautrock but theres nothing here that really hits a groove like Can & co. Instead it sounds more like Fischerspooner-style euro-pop. minimal synths whirr over 80s drum machines, while singer Ben whispers like a sex-pest over the top. But for all the pop leanings theres not really a single song anyone could ever conceiveably dance to. Too many of the tracks tick away in 3rd gear, making some nice synth sounds and New Order-sh 4/4 beats, but never really putting those elements to a satisfying use. 'Sugar' wants to be MGMT but forgets to add any Prince and leaves things oddly sexless. The instrumental 'Boy' is nice, like a frantic gameboy soundtrack, probably my favourite song on the record. And Track 10 is a cover of Bauhaus's 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'. Of course, they were goths all along. 4/10
I'm not blaming them exactly, but after ripping the tracks from this CD, (the debut from these Leeds-based experimental rockers) it took me 20 minutes and a lot of fiddling with a paperclip to get the bloody thing of my laptop. Not remotely interesting or relevant, but lets just say after that ordeal they owed me something bloody spectacular...
So its a good thing that they hit the ground running with the opener & title track, a ferocious beast of a song where the bass literally seems to prowl. When the vocals, such as they are, come in, buried deep in the mix, they sound like the rushed last report of a war correspondent whos just missed the last chopper out. Its frantic and panicked and completely enticing.
Now, this is a heavy record. While it might ostensibly be filed under post-rock, the bands it brings to mind are as much from the hairy, unwashed side of the spectrum as the arty: Trail of Dead, Deftones, the first 2 Therapy? albums. For all the weird scales and time signature changes, Its a record that wouldn't work so well if it didn't rock so hard. The rhythm section's tight and jazzy, leaving room for all manner of guitar-heroics over the top. and then theres the saxophone. You don't hear much sax on art-rock records (I can't imagine why) but here it seems to work, especially on closer 'Deaf Machine' which makes you feel as if you're watching the climax of some especially violent 70s cop show. Its a record full of interesting twists and turns, which manages to to be inventive without sacrificing the fun. Fans of Shellac, That Fucking Tank, 65sDaysofStatic or Trans Am will find a lot to love here. 8/10
'Contrails' splutters into life and its like stepping into an indie time machine. The guitars fuzz away like a thousand barely-remembered turn-of-the-century Evening Session bands. The Hush Now have made an Album here thats like an indie version of Woody Allen's Zelig. It sounds like a greatest hits of a band thats been there at every major event in alternative music for the last 20 years. 'Hoping and Waiting' is a quirky Housemartin-sy stomp-along with seems to have invited Pavarotti along for its middle 8; 'Thorns' is dreamy shoegaze. 'Fireflies is (inexplicably) bluegrass (but still only the 2nd worst song with that title I've heard this month). While its all pretty standard genre exercises, the sheer range of different hats they put on over this album is fairly impressive, even if it comes across as a compilation of the whitest music ever made. The harmonies throughout are nice and theres some carefully deployed brass. But the 'Hush' in there name seems appropriate. None of the songs really kick off. 'Carousel' should be a stirring epic, but it just sort of hnags around for a bit then sidles off. For all the variety they show, The Hush Now never really make any sound their own. 6/10
808 State formed in Manchester in the late ‘80s and were key players in the acid house scene of that time. The reissue of the bands first two albums for the ZTT label shows how the band were pivotal in pioneering the electronic music scene in the UK.
Ninety, released in 1989, is quite rightly hailed as perhaps one of the most important techno albums of all time. Containing the blissful, jazz-infused ‘Pacific 202’, the bands first commerically successfully single, and the acid hue of ‘Ancodia’ and ‘Cobra Bora’ the album really has the power to pack out the dancefloor. Whilst tracks such as ‘Donkey Doctor’ and ‘808080808’ contain pulsating stabs of synths, providing Ninety with a link back to the bands earlier Newbuild album. ‘Sunrise’ provides a chill out moment before the albums experimental outro track ‘The Fat Shadow’ which jolts and jars the album to its conlcusion, providing Ninety with its only weak track. The archives disc contains a number of reworked tracks from the bands earlier Quadrastate album, notably ‘State to State’ and ‘Boneyween’, and an instrumental working of ‘Magical Dream’ which stripped of its dreamlike female vocal provides an ambient soundscape of which the Aphex Twin would be proud. 9/10
Ninety’s successor Ex:el, released in 1991, marked a fundamental shift in sound away from the acid/techno hybrid that characterised the band’s early releases. The album contains nods towards hip hop, jazz, funk, soul and rock whilst still maintaining that distinctive ‘808’ sound.
The album’s strength lies in it’s diversity and pretty much provides a blue print for much of the output of the British dance scene that followed during the 90s and in many ways provides a more complete and consistent album than its predecessor. From the hip hop influenced opener ‘San Francisco’, the breakbeat driven ‘Leo Leo’ , the ambient bliss of ‘Lift’ and the techo juggernaut that is ‘Cubik’, the quality control really doesn’t drop. Guest vocals from Bernard Sumner of New Order on ‘Spanish Heart’ and perhaps, most notably, Bjork in one of her first post-Sugarcubes outings on the excellent ‘Qmart’ and ‘OOOPs’ also add a new dimension to the bands sound. The only downside is that the archive disc doesn’t add a great deal to the album itself, although it’s probably worth a listen for the excellent, alternative takes on ‘Lift’ and ‘Open Your Mind’, a non-album single originally released as part of the ‘Lift’ E.P. 8/10