albums - june 2010
Originally released in 1984, Welcome to the Pleasuredome can rightly be regarded as one of the best pop albums of not just the 80s but of all time. This 25th anniversary re-release by ZTT includes a full re-mastered version of the original album plus a bonus disc of alternative takes of the band’s singles and demo versions. All very nicely repackaged in a double gatefold CD. The album is largely a showcase for the band's first four singles, three of which - 'Relax', 'Two Tribes' and 'The Power of Love' reached number one with the fourth and title track peaking at number two.
However, controversy followed by the band from the outset with 'Relax' being banned by the BBC due to worries over it's allegedly obscene lyrics and video which appears to show the band partying in a S&M club. Whilst 'Two Tribes' parodied the cold war stand off between East and West at the time, complete with a video showing the then heads of state of the USA and Russia, Reagan and Chernenko, fighting whilst other world leaders look on placing bets. These singles are definitely the outstanding tracks on the album and both are underpinned by pulsating drums and hulking bass lines with Trevor Horn adding a full-on production and letting the now unmistaken vocals of Holly Johnson come to the fore.
Third single ‘The Power of Love’ marked a change in direction for the band with their first ballad and a song which still has the power to bring tears to grown men’s eyes even today with it’s haunting chorus. However, it is probably the albums title track which presented the band’s high point but musically and commercially. Clocking in at over 13 minutes ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ complete with tribal chanting, soaring backing vocals and massive stabs of synth allowed both the band and Trevor Horn to create a real pop masterpiece. The remaining tracks on the album unfortunately don’t quite match these tracks yet there a couple of hidden gems with a blazing cover of ‘Born To Run’, the sexual deviance of ‘Krisco Kisses’ and ‘The Only Star in Heaven’ all of which stand out in their own right. The bonus CD doesn’t really offer too much in the way of additional material, except for the most die-hard fans of the band, with only really ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome (Cut Rough)’ providing an interesting insight into the bands punk roots.
Unfortunately, it was all down hill for the band from here with internal squabbles and a rather disappointingly second album ‘Liverpool’ eventually leading to the break up of the band. Although, lead singer Holly Johnson enjoyed a solo career nothing quite matched up to the heights of this album. Overall, ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ has stood the test of time excellently and should be a part of any music fan’s collection. 9/10
Not one content with simply taking 13 of her best songs and piecing them into some semblance of running order, Canadian songstress Joanna Chapman-Smith was apparently inspired by the Victorian poet William Blake to construct an album based around the polar opposites that exist within us all. Not that you'd gather that from taking a cursory listen to her second album and it's hushed, pleasant tone though.
Smith deals in the same kind of hushed, acoustic reverie Katie Melua has been turning in for years however there's a darker, eastern-European sound at work here which is all her own. Instrumentally there are flecks of everything from jazz to cabaret and country with subtle pop melodies wound tightly around the international brew. There are moments where the endearing quirkiness sticks out above the delicate folksy arrangements (the graceful 'Melodies' and the gorgeous a-cappella 'Body language' come immediately to mind) but for the most part the album blends as a comfortable whole. This isn't a bad thing at-all though, the mood crafted here is warm and comforting with Smith's hushed, velvet lungs sitting at the centre of a band of whom Dawn Zoe on accordion plays perhaps the most striking role. She plays the accordion like it's a lead guitar and the results are frequently enchanting. The songs soon settle into a pattern though and with the rare exceptions of the songs mentioned above and below the listener is soon lulled into a warm bubble which is cosy but hardly exciting.
Another exception is the closing 'Carnival Song'. A stunningly melancholic
semi-anthem which slays everything which came before it in one fell
swoop. It manages the rare task of being both wistful and weighty
with a classic melody and heartbreaking lyrics lamenting the passage
of time and innocence lost. If Smith were to let her guard down a
little more often and deliver more of herself in her songs (as she
does here) she could have been onto something truly wonderful. As
it stands though this is a pleasant 'dinner party' record from an
artist who is obviously capable of so much more. 6/10
Guitarist, Dani Rabin and Saxophonist, Danny Markovich formulated
this glorious new sound in jazz in 2007 and their style combines the
use of modern textures and soundscapes with more traditional forms.
After being active in the Israeli music circuit during 2007 and early
2008, they relocated to Chicago in September 2009. Since then, they
have collaborated with 7 times Grammy winner Paul Wertico and are
featured on his new record Impressions of a City. In 2009, they completed
this album. This is the debut album of the ambient jazz duet, Marbin.
In 2008, 'Life In The Bus Lane' was beyond question my favourite
album of the year and a quite serious contender for album of the decade,
its mixture of maniacal punk energies, electronic collage and rag
week irreverence identifying Applicants as perhaps the most innovative
new band of that year and perhaps inevitably the least appreciated,
partly because whatever else Applicants are, they aren't, in the conventional
sense of the word, 'cool'. None of this sunglasses after dark and
arty namedropping for these electro urchins, who have, in the intervening
twentyfour months, both successfully fended off any attempts to curtail
their adloescent enthusiasms and found time to record their second
album. Which is a lot like the first one, except it's louder, with
an Andrew WK-esque metallic blister added to their already frenetic
commentaries on urban life as it is lived today, making the likes
of Delphic sound like lumbering, sequenced dinosaurs in the process.
Surreal, tuneful, very clever and properly rock n roll, in a fairer,
saner world they'd pack out stadiums and Carling Academys, provoking
Gill Mills into smiling as they did so, but Applicants also relish
their obscurity, and their second album is an absurdist daydream lived
out in a virtual cinecomplex. Impress your chums down at the skatepark
with this one, pop kids!
The hills are alive, mes amis, with the sound of jugband banjos rocking
the backwoods and frightening the livestock. 21st century bluegrass
skiffle with a touch of zydeco and an empty gallon jar of moonshine
for an ashtray, the WTBBs are about as darned ornery as you can ever
expect cause make no mistake these boys are here for a hoedown, brought
their mandolins and a fresh caught possum for the barbecue n'all!
The BDIs are, in a quite literal sense, big in Japan, where Steely
Dan are still remembered witha degree of reverence. Funky slap bass,
jazz infected keyboard arpeggios, a trumpet and a certain world weariness
in the lyrics - 'Glorious Return' is a collection of carefully phrased,
tightly scored AOR pop, but listen a little closer and there's an
erratic backbeat running through these verging upon soulful grooves
which lifts the abum above mere laid back 70s riffola, and (thankfully)
the song tempos vary through any number of styles, giving the album
an agreeable air of invention which has already found The BDIs an
appreciative audience in the far east, although I can't help wondering
if they're just a little too contrived for UK tastes, which they are,
but in a quite clever musicianly way that never quite breaks into
the full-blown disco that I'm certain they're very good at. And following
on from recent listens to similar bands whose entire sets seemed to
consist of the same Sly Stone riff repeated on an endless loop, hearing
the BDIs stretch their talents across soul, funk and samba makes for
a less than predictable listening experience. I'm sure Donald Fagen
Finding your own voice is sometimes both time consuming and hard
work, particularly if you're female. What with so many other grrls
making big time pop music nowadays, getting yourself heard amongst
the Florences, Marinas and Kates is inevitably a bit frustrating sometimes,
particularly if you haven't got a proper record label. Unless, of
course, you are Kat Vipers, and had all of the neccesary attributes
gifted onto you while still in your cradle by the Talent Fairy. With
accolades that include Radio 3 and all manner of other commentators,
the classically trained pianist more than deserves her hour in the
full glare of the music media spotlight.
Formerly known as Rhubarb, Richard Haswell (probably wishing he'd
used his own name all along) a native of Edinburgh (where the aforesaid
vegetable grows in profusion along the banks of Leith Water) has spent
the last two years (looking for more custard) recording this, his
twentieth album (he also recorded as G For Gnome) at home on his laptop
(the one with the custard stains) with some help from some other musicians
(special guest star: Big Ears) and the results of several years effort
on the part of Richard (Rhubarb The Gnome) Haswell sound a lot like
the formulaic 'Snow Patrol/ Del Amitri/ Big Country' jockrock that
Radio2 stopped playing after Terry Wogan's retirement (how do you
make custard?) and while it sounds as if everyone involved (you buy
a packet and some milk) had a quite good time recording the 9 tracks
on (time for a new saucepan!) 'Safety In Movement' many of the rest
of us (no, rhubarb isn't an aphrodisiac) might find it all a bit dull
and creakily worthy (it's another word, beginning with L).
Bands argue for like, months about the suitability of opening tracks, so why Stratford-Upon-Avonites The Culprit have chosen some Euro dance cum nu-metal auto tune monstrosity as an introduction to their debut album is beyond me. It’s so deeply offensive and out of context it’s like starting a debut novel with a racist rant.
But don’t let this gargantuan faux pas put you off. Battle through and hidden behind the worst piece of music ever written by a musician outside of Scouting for Girls is actually quite a clever, genre hopping collection of tracks; those genres in question being mainly nu metal, industrial metal and a bit of good old fashioned catchy rock.
Sure, The Culprit clearly wear their influences on their sleeves but there’s something here for everyone. ‘Blackball’ is a bouncy guitar-fest that’s nostalgically poppy like The Wildhearts whilst ‘Kill or Cure’ follows suit before ending with a vocal breakdown Jonathan Davis would be proud of. In fact, it’s obvious that Korn are a major influence throughout this album.
Some of the second half of this record feels somewhat lacking in direction, falling into the predictable groove of straight forward nu-metal. Nonetheless, the band’s skill seems to reside in constantly providing impressive and catchy choruses that will keep you hanging on in there. This probably goes someway to explain the excellent, swirling, electronic mid-album cover of ‘What is Love’ by Howard Jones. Adapting such a commercial song serves to illustrate the band’s understanding and appreciation of a poppy riff or two. And no review of this eponymous debut would be complete without noting the near epic closing number ‘Birthmark.’ Brooding, intense and atmospheric, listening to this fantastic song makes it difficult to believe the intro track ever happened.
Ultimately, The Culprit have pulled off walking a dangerous path.
Nu-metal is somewhat dated and whilst some excessive posturing might
threaten to mar some otherwise good tracks, out and out quality song
writing pulls the value of this record up by the lapels. Moments of
true talent lay waiting to be discovered, hidden between the varying
quality of this album; nonetheless it is these moments alone that
make it well worth investigating what The Culprit have to offer. 7/10
The band Glass came about when singer and guitarist Alexander King came into contact with journals, scribblings and clippings relating to an eccentric 19th Century inventor named Anthony Phillip Glass, a man who claimed to have invented a machine that could transmit music through time. He then started the band with Glass as the influence for the debut album The Sound of Glass. I only hope if the machine did exist, it was able to reverse the process and therefore somehow make sure this album was never made.
More a mini-album than a full length, The Sound Of Glass consists of seven driving tunes that sound a bit like Incubus except for the fact that they are for the most part terrible. The song structure is all over the place for most of the album and the songs simply don’t have any flow to them at all. There are some moments where Glass threaten to come out with a good tune, as with the intro of “Without”, but then disappoint as soon as the vocals kick in. I don’t want to drag this out any longer, you know where I'm going with it. 1/10
Opening with an intensely creepy piano riff, far off sleigh bell rings and the question “Have you got just a minute/are you easily led?”, ‘I Saw The Dead’ , the first track on the debut album from Villagers introduces us nicely to the eerily magical world of it’s creator Conor J. O’Brien. It encapsulates from the very first line until it abruptly puts an end to itself like a front door in the face. We are then lead on to the lead single “Becoming a Jackal” which flows down the same vein of melancholy and spellbinding story telling that runs through the entire album.
To say that Conor O’Brien has been massively influenced by another similarly named troubadour would be fair but Villagers is far from a thinly concealed tribute act, It’s direction is clear and the wonderfully heartfelt and poetic lyrics that form each song exhibit a rare talent for songwriting twinned with a distinctive vocal that oozes fragility and sincerity and leaves you enraptured with each line. Centerpiece “Home” is a brilliant example of Villagers style of writing in which a story is told so well that you forget everything else you’re doing and get completely drawn into it’s world. As we veer into the second side of the album the songs don’t get any weaker, the only musically upbeat tune on the album “The Pact” bops along nicely with a bassline reminiscent of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” whilst the hauntingly beautiful “Twenty-Seven Strangers” sees Villagers creating an enthralling story based around a bus breaking down.
Although the mood of the instrumentation on this album is very current in the post Neon Bible landscape of dark indie folk and does add a lot to the atmospheric sincerity of the record, I daresay this album is strong enough to still be important even if stripped down to the bare bones of a single acoustic guitar, as proves the closing track “To Be Counted Among Men”. That way it would be impossible to pin down and would move from being one of the best albums of 2010 into the territory of timelessness. 9/10
Bursting straight into intense synth clashing, drum firing ‘Never Never’, this is already feeling like an album that is staring you down, sizing you up, ready to announce war - and then batting it’s eyelashes to seduce you with its eerie vocals whispering sweet nothings such as ‘I was deep in love with you’. Seeming as if to prove a love for you, pumping anthem, ‘In the End of the Day’ creates a carnival of musical colour, vocals and riffs swooping and gliding over a steady march before descending into a beautiful choral finale. ‘Sit Down with Me’ is short and sweet, a pause for breath as it halts the pace with charming acoustic plucking and a harmonious chorus line of the title, mirroring the tragic softness of later track ‘Before I Do’.
Yet, sounding like a laidback sixties serenade is the luminous ‘Four Walls’ that is reflected with ‘On The Line’, a later track that is more regretful. Petter is definitely not afraid of genre hopping and why not when you can do it this well. He manages to apply musical flair retaining all of the features of an articulate piece of work, most likely due to optimistic songs from the beginning of the album being reflected with a more downbeat tone in the latter of the tracks, forming an off-kilter circle of emotion.
Flowing seamlessly from ‘Four Walls’ is the title track, with which we take a more electro edge. ‘Good As Gold’ has a leading riff that is as bold a statement as any, bounding into action like a excited puppy in between soft verses and those mellifluously silky vocals. ‘Stuck In Between’ feels like the soundtrack to a sundrenched Mediterranean holiday as it floats and beams all of its tuneful wonder.
But the little unexpected gem, the rather aptly named ‘Momentarily Lost’ is a concise wonder of elegant humming and strumming at a mere one minute twenty-three seconds. And it is needed before the passionate ‘Backyard’ that has hints of Vampire Weekend’s college kitsch layered with lashings of drums and enthusiasm. The grand finale is a magnificently unhurried accordion epic, ‘Last Time’, the suave younger brother of a Mumford and Sons croon.
There is something distinctly summery about ‘Good As Gold’ – whether it’s the anthems that seem so festival ready or the shining sounds that glisten so beautifully, this album is ready to take on the heat, the slow sun downs and the mild summer breeze. And that is exactly why I love it.
The album opens with “Phonographic Love” which initially sounds a bit Canterbury, and I'm intrigued. But where Canterbury would dive into a rocking catchy chorus, this song develops into a slightly funky indie track. It's gentle, slow-paced and easy going, but it's not too bad at all. The regular indie four-piece line up, it's just what you'd expect. There's a slight Two Door Cinema Club edge, with the electronic bleeps every so often although the drums do sounds considerably more real. But the songs still have that light airy feel about them. Although you aren't twitching fiercely, certain appendages will be drumming against nearby solid surfaces. The second track “Sit You Down” is another gentle pleaser. The rest of the album follows suit for the most part – funky indie tunes with a slightly bleepy edge – almost Summery in some respects. Nothing fantastically ground-breaking but you know what to expect with this genre – and these guys seem to have done quite well. A slightly softer male-fronted Noisettes, if you will. It's tricky to choose some highlight tracks from al album which is fairly consistent in song, but aside from the first two, I'll chuck “Second Chances” into the mix too. 8/10
War is noise? That's an original name and theme for a record isn't it. Sounds like it should be punky. Oh it is? Oh..
Well, it certainly has its roots in punk; the surge of American punk that sk8r bois like as opposed to the original dangerous studded men punk. Imagine that kind of punk, at a college battle of the bands level. Replace the distorted guitars with an acoustic, and of course tone down the vocals to match the softer tones. And you're left with Jaakko & Jay – this strange Finland duo with a somewhat predictable approach to folk punk. Jaakko on guitars and vocals, and Jay on drums and backing vocals.
For someone like myself who heard a lot of this kind of stuff throughout my college years, there's not much here for me to go mad for. For someone else, maybe younger, new to this kind of thing, I suppose it's not so bad. Punk vocals have never been exceptionally tuneful and a lot of the time it's all about that raw DIY feel – so in that respect they've hit the nail on the head. But haven't we heard it all before?
Frank Turner rates this guy. I'm not going to let this influence my judgement, but I thought I'd let you know right at the start. That said, let's bring in Mr Turner for a comparison, we're all familiar with him, love or hate. They're quite similar in many senses, and here's why: Frank Turner has a fairly average voice, the music isn't bad, but everyone loves him for his lyrics, the stories he spins, etc. I can see that being the main appeal with Lockey & Co here. The focus is well and truly on the lyrics – the music is gentle and pleasant but is very much in the background compared to the foreground vocals. Granted, the recording is a little different between artists – but the song writing is not dissimilar at all. Now we've established what they sound like, let's discuss the album.
As previously mentioned, within the soundscape the music is quite far back in the recording – thus each song is almost entirely relying on the vocals to distinguish it from the one before. A tall order, obviously. The result is that, it's all a bit samey, but at the same time, it's quite pleasant. I tend to lean more towards something with a decent backing, or at least something to sing along to, and whilst this isn't offering me either, I'm not going to switch it off just yet. If this was picked up by a big label and re-recorded for radio play, I think I could go as far to say I quite liked it.
We are told that 2010 is to be a big year for Noisia, comprised of
Nik Roos, Thijs de Vlieger and Matijn van Sonderen. The Dutch trio
has gathered a huge underground following due to their continuous
flow of enthralling releases and they have produced various high profile
remixes for the likes of Moby and The Prodigy. It seems to be just
a matter of time before Noisia become the latest superpower to break
through from the world of Drum & Bass. They have even launched
their own ‘Machine Gun’ themed video game! The group’s love of electro
and breaks also influences their music, showing their versatility
as they continue to push the boundaries of their musical style.
You don't need to start your record with 32 secondas of static. You just don't. But then track 2, 'Laundry Hepburn' starts and you hark back to those 32 seconds. They seem like Halcyon days, a time when things were simple and carefree. Theres something about noise rock. A thin line between gloriously messy and just fucking about. I'm not sure what side Conformists come down on. There are snatches of riffs or hooks but they're instantly washed over by a wave of noise. the closest similarity i can think of is Part Chimp but at least had the decency to write the odd tune as well as having funny song titles. There are hints at weird time signatures and stop/start turnarounds but I'm not convinced they're all intentional.
'Tax Deduction' takes a stab at Kyuss-y stoner grooves and manages to stick at it for the duration without losing interest. Elsewhere though, its heavy going. Mumbling over feedback doesn't necessarily make you Slint. Its murky but the wrong sort of murky. Art-y math rock's great 'n all, but that doesn't instantly make everything with 400 tempo changes genius. Sometimes its just a band playing out of time with a singer who cant sing. Sometimes the emporer is stark bollock naked. Stop messing about.
An album full of spindly, twisty-turny' guitar and stabs at stirring math rock anthems. Vessels, would be the most obvious comparison but Lost from Atlas don't quite have the same sense of playfulness as Leed's finest. While as a band they're impressively intense theres a feeling they're only about a fifth as arty as they'd like to think. No amount of guitar heroics can really disguise the fact this is actually quite standard stuff. As good an example of the genre as any, mainly because it seems like somebody's taken an average of every other post-rock band and left in very few unique characteristics.
And the guitarist. We have to mention the guitarist. I like my atonal, weird time-signature, shredding as much as the next man, but every spare second is filled with twiddling. For all its loftiness this is music thats two-steps away from being Dragonforce. Lots of wankery but very little in dynamics or emotional depth. Just funny song titles and a misled idea of 'artiness'
Quite what the DJ and national treasure's ever done to deserve a track called 'Tom Robinson must Die' is anyone's guess. Not played their demo perhaps? Only on the the hip-hop infuenced interlude '1.0' does the guitarist shut the hell up for a minute and half and its a welcome relief. The folky 'fin', which closes the record is actually quite lovely too, if only because its so different from everything that precedes it. Theres a good band here but they seem too wrapped up in showing off their musical chops and less concerned with telling us anything new. 4/10
Supposedly named after the Ride EP, nu-gazers Sennen deal in epic, fuzz-drenched songs that brood and shimmer. They tick all the boxes for this sort of music but despite that theres something ever so slightly undercooked about it all.
Theres one thing that irks me about this record, and thats the complete lack of dynamics. If you're going to write songs that tease you for 3 and a half minutes, then descend into a thrashy, overdriven conclusion - I want that conclusion to sound like I'm being hit by a bus. I want it to sound collosal. Take 'With You'; (which sounds not unlike LCD Soundsystem's All My Friends) its based on a looping, hypnotic riff which sucks you in, but when you reach the 'rock' section... nothing happens. You hear them step on the distortion pedal, but its puny and limp-wristed, like a fart in a mineshaft. In this genre being able to cycle through the gears and ramp up the tension is pretty essential. I don't doubt they'd be awesome live, but on record it all comes across a little flat.
But this is a tight album. Its one step away from pastiche, but done so slickly that its hard not to be impressed. Theres nothing here that breaks the mould, but plenty of songs that'd fit snugly in it. 'Falling Down' sounds so much like a Spiritualized track that if Jason Pierce heard it he'd assume he'd written it while he was high and forgotten about it. 'Innocence' is a doozy too, a cut of prime 'Brotherhood' era New Order thats as pleasant a surprise as finding a quid in an old pair of jeans. Sennen do have the tunes, but even the most hardened of shoegazers is going to run the risk of finding themselves a little bored in places. Theres a good album in this lot, but they're going to have to cut loose a bit more often before we get to hear it. 6/10
Ash’s debut album was called 1977 because - get this - it was the year most of the band were born. Likewise Hunger pulls the same droll trick by calling her new album 1983. Luckily for her, as irksome as this might be, even a rudimentary listen to this record reveals an impressive collection of hushed jazz-folk songs that are wonderfully produced.
Nevertheless, 1983 sometimes struggles to live up to the lofty expectations it sets out. Without wanting to sound cynical this is the type of album that people think they should like but probably don’t. I was very at odds when listening to it. You see, Hunger’s talent is both unmistakable and seductive, making it difficult to deny the quality of the songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always enjoyable or entertaining. Whilst there are moments of indulgence such as ‘D’Red’ or ‘Train People’ other songs feel more as if Hunger is singing at you rather than to you. These folky, jazz-tinged ensembles lack direction, meandering from one melody (or even language) to another way too frequently; in turn making the record to feel disjointed and patchy. Individual instruments and melodies in songs such as ‘Your Personal Religion’ and ‘Travelogue’ are fantastic and soulful but put them altogether and the songs feel awkward – They should sound better than they do and it’s frustrating.
There is no doubt that this record is adventurous, clever and brave
as Hunger refuses to play the singer songwriter game. For that alone
she deserves credit. 1983 is indeed different but it misses the target
somewhat. The music struggles to keep up with Hunger’s towering ambition
and the outcome is one of varying enjoyment. Nonetheless, if she soon
manages to satisfy such ambition, expect something very special. But
for now, it’s close but no cigar. 6/10
Kurt Cobain's beloved Shonen Knife sound like a Japanese, female Ramons, in bright colours. Their latest - they've been around, obviously, for a while - bears a title, and a refrain ending "everybody's feeling satisfaction now", marking them up immediately as more a pop-punk band that is comfortable with their own image, than kindred spirits with the Nirvana frontman who struggled against the fact that his anti-consumerist, anti-establishment protest was naturally packaged and sold at great profit by the very capitalist system that was pissing him off so badly. The lack of such internal warfare here makes for a band that, without wanting to be overtly reductive, are more similar to Deerhoof than a Western post-Ramones pop-punk band. No authenticity squabbles. No bemoaning capitalist realism. Satomi-a-like joy is best captured on a track that reminds me of the first time I saw Mudhoney, a track called 'Muddy Bubbles Hell', with gleeful and childish pronunciation of those very words interspersed with brooding Japanese alt-rock heavy riffers. Seconds of this conjured another ludicrous comparison: Boris. And it is all a bit like that: rock music that achieves simplicity, does it well, and is fun. 'Deer Biscuits', about feeding biscuits to deers at the deer park and making them "very happy", is this epitomised: a more formulaic Deerhoof; an actually fun band that sounds like the Ramones. It is a simple, yet strange record, and it is very well produced. Songs about animals... that animals would actually listen to.
I find it quite comforting that in these days of Crossbow Cannibals, David Cameron, Terrorism, and the BP oil spill, I can keep day dreaming and pretend I’m from the same fantasy land as everyone from Wilkommen records.
This gaggle features Shoreline, Sons Of Noel And Adrian, and The Leisure Society amongst others. This album was started a staggering six years ago! By god I wish they had finished sooner - this is indeed a Wilkommen super group and I have a lump in my throat just reading their biography. I want to be their friends! I want to share the deeply happy trips they had making music on their ‘working holidays’ in cottages in Wales and Devon.
I already knew before I even listened to this collective that I would like it, I just did. I like everything that Tim West is involved in, and this is no exception. This album is like The leisure Society on steroids or Sons of Noel and Adrian after they have eaten their own weight in spinach. I love the highs and lows, the quiet thoughtful moments and in a weird way, the moments that bring you crashing back down to reality when you realise that things aren’t really that great.... see Tim has a knack of doing that, telling the depressing truth in a very dreamy way.
One of my favourite tracks has to be ‘I will never’- I love the sound of that banjo and the female vocals have a real vintage 60’s feel to them. But out of every track on the album (and I have to say I genuinely love them all) ‘Bookshop Folk’ is at the top of my list. It’s a little bit naughty and a little bit dark, I love the fast paced fury, and the lyrics ‘If I had the time, to do anything I like.. I would still be here doing what I like’. Genius! After the very seductive female voice you are greeted by a massive crescendo of vocals and a mesmerising electric guitar. Which in a way is a little bit cheesy...but I have to say, amazing. I love it!
Fang Island have been making big waves recently, given the thumbs up by Pitchfork and causing a stir at SXSW they released their debut in the USA in February this year and have decided to treat us to a full UK release of their euphoric and uplifting self titled debut album. Fang Island don’t really do lyrics save for some scattered chants, instead they choose convey everything they mean through music alone. Fang Island do rock though, their crazed Animal Collective like jaunts cascade along at 100mph and don’t let up until the album is winding down. Running through the album is a sense of journey (not the band) and change present in the music which perhaps wouldn’t be achieved with conventional vocals/lyrics but is supplemented by the repetitive, sometimes choral chanting of a few words or just a melody that is scattered around the album and adds to the ‘all together now‘ mood the band want to convey. Opening with the fitting sound of fireworks cracking, first song “Dreams of Dreams” sounds like the kind of tune you’d hear upon completing an old Nintendo game with a tear of pride in your eye for what you’ve just achieved whilst “Daisy” sounds like what could be the soundtrack to this World Cup with tribal chanting popping up all over the driving instrumentation below.
Whats strange about Fang Island is that the music is unbelievably close to the power-pop-punk-emo sound, take “Welcome Wagon” for example, yet doesn’t feel cheesy or overblown at all. It’s almost like Fang Island are the genetically similar but more highly evolved human to emo’s chimp, oh and they don’t ruin it with a yelping screaming vocal delivery which probably helps. So does this mean that a My Chemical Romance album without the vocal track might be good? Nah, because it’s all the elements of Fang Island that make it unique, the production is a big part and it probably would sound terrible if given a huge production and heavier guitars. Theres a lot of 80’s inspired sounds here which are nostalgic in this context rather than cheesy and thats what this album is really, it’s a guilt free version of classic rock, its the Journey or MCR or Quo that it’s OK to like as it’s a cool version, the cheese has been stripped away and replaced with art rock credentials but with no pretension, it’s just feel good music and it’s done well. Fang Island describe their sound as “everyone high-fiving everyone” and I know what they mean, just don’t leave me hanging. 9/10
It’s about time we had a band from our shores taking influences from the golden age of British indie pop, an era which has been occupied by American bands for some time now with our own acts favouring to copy the post Oasis model of rock/pop songwriting and neglecting all that was once great about indie pop. Never fear, a saviour might have come in the form of London boy/girl duo The Tamborines, a band that take huge influence from the late ‘80s- early ’90’s indie sound and make music that combines the fuzz of Psychocandy era Mary Chain with the primal stomp of the Velvets and blasts of high energy noise reminiscent of Sonic Youth circa Dirty to create an album packed full of well crafted pop songs that aren’t afraid of wearing their influences on the sleeves of their slightly-too-small leather jackets. Although Camera & Tremor contains all the ingredients to make a classic revivalist album like The Pains Of Being Pure At Hearts brilliant debut it just doesn’t cut it for me, there’s a lot of people doing this kind of stuff better these days, and then of course there are the original bands. It seems as though each song has been structured using another song or band as a frame for it and that sucks. Although much of the album is just a straight Mary Chain rip, “CWB” is just too Mary Chain to take seriously and “Let Me Down” could be off Dirty. It wouldn’t be so bad if The Tambourines had sculpted their influences into their own sound but to me they haven’t and that’s just not on. Saying that, i’d rather bands rip off Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride and the Velvets than play shit twee indie folk or big chord lad rock so I guess The Tamborines are at least waving the flag for UK indie so good on them for that, and “Looking Glass House” is a killer track to their credit. I guess if this album acts as a signpost for it’s influences and can point people in the right direction it’s served it’s purpose as theres no musical statement here, just two indie kids pretending to be their idols and making an OK job of it. 5/10
'Back to the Wild' is a song and the sentiment opening this new
Langhorne Slim release, about creating a space, the necessity of escapism,
and cutting loose. The "Darling, look" and "Sing it,
sing it, sing it" of 'Say Yes' betray a deep sense of restlessness,
conveyed by agitated words, beneath a voice that's not NYC 'anti-folk',
as Wikipedia would lie to you, but definitely fits in with the 'alt-country'
vibe of Ryan Adams.
This is the seventh album from the Italian band and still no one has ever heard of them. Sadly, I don’t think this is one of their best albums to introduce someone to. The album opens with “Your Kisses” where you can hear the potential for a good dance track after the acapella intro with a good arrangement in the instruments but the lyrics really let it down, I feel.
“Suffer With Style” recalls early 80s keyboard dance, which is pulled of reasonably well. “Chupacabra” is a song completely isolated right in the middle of the album, which I like because of its short length and strange drumming pattern. “Tiger” is another song in a world of its own. All in all, this album does not give any lyrics for the listener to relate to, which in some cases is brilliant, however I am not sure it is so brilliant in the case of this album.
“Girls On Vodka” is the second song and has quite a rocky sound to it. But don’t be fooled, there is not another rocky song in the album. “Preservativi Ovunque” is sung entirely in Italian so we aren’t quite sure what is being sung but I can translate the title to you as “Condoms Everywhere”. Make your own judgements.
There are two remixes of “Your Kisses” at the end of the album: one by Tuzo and the other by Blatta & Inesha. The first makes the song bearable but seeing as the original did not give very much to work on, it is slightly repetitive. However, I do prefer it to Blatta & Inesha’s take on the song, which by 2 minutes in had given me an odd headache, pounding in time to the music.
This Brighton quintet released their album on 6th June with much anticipation after having toured with The Airborne Toxic Event in 2007. Lead by the singer and pianist Dave McCormack, this band has created a wonderfully catchy mini album.
“One In A Million” shows driving bass lines and catchy drums, sounding not dissimilar to Bombay Bicycle Club and McCormack’s voice is certainly used well. “Beside You” opens with an intro reminiscent of Journey- Don’t Stop Believing and then comes the nice jingly guitar, which makes you sit up and listen. “Penny” is a rockier song than others on the album, beginning with piano.
Ivan And The Wolves are a wild rock trio out of Camden who make the sort of music you’d expect to hear from a school band. Apart from this is so much better.
Taking obvious influences from vintage rockers The Who and more modern day musicians like Muse and Foo Fighters, the band are a good style of heavy rock with lots of little twists in it. The EP begins with “SOS”- a catchy but heavy song and still reminiscent of summer all at once. The same could be said for the next two songs to follow, “Killing Time” and “Background Silhouette”
The album ends with “Two Ways” which is very reminiscent of Nirvana and similar artists with garage-y sounds in the guitars and a drawl in the lyrics.
This is Jarid del Deo’s first album after “Snow Tires” as Unbunny back in 2008, and, combining elements from The Magnetic Fields and Neil Young, his songs sing of misery and love with beautiful melodies and guitar accompaniment. There are so many elements of self-criticism and specifically in the second song, “Young Men Are Easy Prey” the lyrics, ‘young men are easy prey to a girl like her…once she’s in she’ll turn you down’ echo his difficult past and pessimistic views on life.
“Winning Streak” naturally, contradicts its title but while his attitudes are miserably expressed as “there is a design flaw in the human heart”, it is also brilliantly explained. ‘Landslide’ is full of melodic hooks and the firm rhythms of “Straw On A Camel’s Back” underpin sharp and funny lyrics.
Then it is back to his old best, mocking the homeliness of an ex-lover on” ‘February Secret”. ‘someday baby you’ll settle down with some bullshit husband in some bullshit town’.
When skimming through this album trying to get an idea of what I was about to listen to, I got very confused: As I skipped from track to track I was hearing so many different genres of music coming through, from classical to country, from rock to experimental obscurity that I can’t quite pin point. The one thing that was consistent as I listened however was the deep booming voice of Micah P Hinson; not dissimilar to Johnny Cash this Texan’s voice sounds warm and welcoming but with a slightly uncouth edge.
As I started to listen to the album in its entirety my confusion continued to grow as I was faced with a completely orchestral track, immediately followed by a song featuring just vocals and acoustic guitar very roughly recorded. By the third song, ‘2s And 3s’ I was hoping that the album might settle into a bit more of a rhythm, rather than the sporadic genre skipping of tracks one and two. This was not the case. The song speeds up and slows down as different sections bring changing styles, and the drums feel out of time from the rest of the instrumentation making for very difficult listening. It sounds like two separate songs pasted together to try and make one, but it just didn’t work for me. I hate to say it but the rest of the album is very much the same; songs that don’t seem to know which direction they want to go in, and that lack vital communication between the instruments (it is often very obvious that string sections were recorded at completely different times for example). The album lacks feeling and I don’t quite believe what the songs are trying to tell me.
There is one positive note however: ‘Watchman, Tell Us Of The Night’
is a very good example of what I think Micah P Hinson is capable of.
It brings all the genres heard earlier in the album together, dirty
guitars are complemented by a great string arrangement. The drums
are powerful and intricate yet not dominating. It reminds me of some
of Beck’s more recent work, which for me can only be a positive thing.
I’m not giving up on Micah P Hinson completely, even if he only writes
one or two more songs like this they will be well worth listening
The Miserable Rich are a Brighton based ‘chamber pop’ band – think
Guillemots without the drums or maybe even think Fink without the
funk. However you choose to think of them they create an extremely
exciting idea of a band in my eyes. The group consists of instruments
you wouldn’t usually associate with a ‘pop band’ as such; violins
and cellos create the melodies with double bass and acoustic guitar
driving them along. As pretty as this may sound they say themselves
that “they seem to have become mishap magnets” with a habit of getting
into various traffic accidents and missing many a plane while out
on tour (and there you were thinking they sound like such a sensible
bunch). This can be heard from the very start of the album: They create
an amazing vision of idyllic landscapes with their music, and then
in come the vocals – negative and angry at times, the lyrics come
as a complete contrast to the warmth of the music. Songs of substance
abuse, lusting after “yummy mummies” and all the consequences that
might follow fill the album. I have to say, this contrast really makes
the album stand out for me. The songs are beautiful and memorable,
the lyrics angst-y and accessible, there are no low points in the
album at all. The Miserable Rich might not be a band set for the mainstream,
but they are definitely worth paying attention to. 8/10
Now onto their second album, the GPTT-T Experiment has blossomed into a Revival no less. And they have discovered that ducks, with their higher levels of intelligence are a pre-requisite resource for any self respecting business analyst – hence ‘Business Ducks’. But for all rationalising (is claiming that ducks have years of modern business theory experience rational?) this album is just as stupid as the last one.
Although I have definitely been quoted as slating ‘comedy’ music in the past (The Lancashire Hotpots were particularly harshly dealt with) I do have a bit of a soft spot for Graham Parsnip. There’s little element of commercial-eering that the Hotpots reek of and basically, there is some pretty accomplished musicianship to accompany their endearing Black country accents. And it seems the Revival has gained a couple of axe-meisters – the instrumental title track has a squealing guitar solo and there is thrash outro to ‘Botulism’ which is quite frankly better than most thrash outfits we get to review.
But there’s little concession to sensible songs here – along with the mundane observational subject matter (including Fish and Chips, Hairdressers, not vacuuming and Trout) there’s the more obscure – an ode to the earthquake in Rowley Regis (3.2 on the Richter Scale) and the weird concept of paying your gas bill in spiders (you can’t apparently).
Quite honestly – it’s nonsense and there’s a little bit more of a
feel of narrative comedy about this album than its predecessor – much
of the vocal work is spoken word and in places the music just acts
as a background to this rather than playing along with it in a coherent
song. But it is very enjoyable nonsense nonetheless. ‘Tractor Love’
reminds me of my old school mate’s slightly worrying fetish about
Massey Fergusons and ‘Sleepy Time’ is a very clever parody of the
sordid subject matter of a lot of r’n’b songs. At least that’s what
I think it is about – there’s definitely a line about inserting ones
entire arm up someone’s anus – you wouldn’t get Liberty X singing
about that. 27% duck, 7/10
Anathema have been going for years and I’d always thought they were a super-heavy metal band – they name just sounded that way. But in fact they specialise in a more melodic rock and ‘Were Here Because We’re Here’ is their first album in 7 years. Mixed by Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree and Tasty favourite ‘Insurgentes’ fame) – there’s a definite feel of brooding power about the opener ‘Thin Air’. The insistent riff and swirling atmospherics are beautifully captured by Wilson and the quiet choral interludes add an additional poise. But much of the rest of the album, while promising so much, fails to soar. Anathema consistently threaten to explode into life but all too often I find myself reaching for the skip button as some hippy prog nonsense takes over.
Aside from ‘Thin Air’, ‘Summernight Horizon’ is a decent track –
the piano led melody being heavily buffeted by some rapid-fire drum
action and the chorus very nicely blooms into a melange of vocal harmonies
and power chords, a bit like Leicester’s Maybeshewill. Thereafter
I’m struggling to find a single track that I like – it’s a bit like
listening to a neutered Evenescence – the tracks are overly long and
self indulgent. This is not far from being a great album but it is
also not far from being a dreary bore-fest. 5/10
The second album from School of Seven Bells, and the follow up to the highly praised ‘Alpinisms’, sees the band continue firmly along the route marked ‘Dream Pop’ but this time taking a number of scenic musical meanders along the way. At times sweeping and majestic, the real beauty of this record is only slowly revealed through repeated listening. ‘Windstorm’, which opens proceedings, will be the first single taken from the album and its classic shoegazing guitars instantly remind of those stunning records made by My Bloody Valentine and Curve many years ago. Atmospheric beats drift in and out of focus and the stunning vocals of Alejandra and Claudia Deheza appear to dance their own ghostly intertwined dance throughout. Self-produced by Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines this album contains certain hypnotic qualities and will certainly soundtrack a number of daydreams over the forthcoming months. Capturing classic sounds of the past but remaining innovative and inspirational is a difficult journey to take but one that School of Seven Bells appear to be making. 8/10
For the uninitiated, Hjaltalin are a seven piece band from Iceland, they play a distinctive and bold mixture of orchestral arrangements fused with elements of rock, shoegazing and, this time around, disco. If it sounds like an overtly complicated musical proposition be prepared to be surprised, Hjaltalin manage to blend these seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive and interesting second album.
The opener Suitcase Man is a neat synopsis of their entire repertoire, long fog horn notes of bassoon and violin are accompanied by the boom of bellowing orchestral drums. It sounds like the introduction to an ancient piece of classical piece of music but the distinctive, slightly gravely tones of Hogni Eligsson puncture the serenity, the strings and drums quicken to a Bond-theme pace and intensity and suddenly the band are in full flow, explosions of colour, instruments darting in and finally the beautiful voice of Sigga Thorlacious cuts in to close the song.
Unfortunately after a bright opening, follow several moments of weakness. Grating harmonies and overblown and clumsy arrangements on Feels Like Sugar, the next song is far too long and Montabone feels a bit limp and shallow.
Fortunately what follows is a meandering and impassioned half-album full of wonderful tunes. The interplay which is evident when the band play live is captured nicely on Sweet Impressions, Sigga and Hogni’s vocals carefully layered and spaced throughout the song with its tender closing chorus.
The originality of structure on Stay By You would be jarring if it wasn’t offset by having a three part chorus which sounds inventive and sentimental at the same time. It’s a trick the band repeat on Hooked on Chilli and Seven Years, which dives from lounge music straight into disco with a rattling intensity and authenticity.
The seventies vibes continue into the penultimate track, with a powerful lead vocal from Hogni and the guitars to the fore, accompanied by bassoon sub-bass and another killer chorus. The closing track is basically a 1930s Disney soundtrack ballad, which is oddly fitting. 7.5/10
Awesome Color do one thing, raw, simple, riffage. Musically they fit somewhere between the first Datsuns album and early MC5. The scuzzy guitars, rattly drums and simplistic lyrics are delivered with a worn in authenticity belying the band’s youthful looks.
This is a good album but nothing really stands out, except their ability to tread the line between a distinctive sound and being pigeonholed and keeping up their relentless tempo without being one paced. This is a band with unerring ability to write a good riff and a good chorus, string it together and then leave it at that. No fucking about, no fancy intro, just guitar, bass, drums and some care worn vocals.
Production is minimal, which adds to the demo-tape lo-fi feel of things and certainly helps reinforce the no frills packaging and raison d’etre, guitars are allowed to feed back, and there is a ‘one take or bust’ feeling that pervades most of the tracks.
Whenever I am given a CD to review that has in the opening lines “influenced by the likes of Bjork, Coco Rosie and Serge Gainsbourg” I have to say I get a little excited.
Of course Coco Rosie is known for her distinctive voice that really gives her acoustic music an originally beautiful twist; Serge Gainsbourg most famous for his collaboration with Jane Birkin and their ‘Je T'aime’ track of 1969 and of course not forgetting Bjork known for her individual style of music and of course her taste in fashion. I was unsure how these could influence an artist who’s style is ‘electro/indie/alternative but I have to say it does, well as much as ‘Bix Medard’s’ music can be explained in terms of other artists, for me, she is so wholly unique.
‘Bix Medard’ is made up of Peter Clasen electronic bass playing mixed with Bix's voice and flute playing. With a unique style Bix sings in a very poetic style, almost reading her lines to the beat of the sounds around her, creating a very organic style of what I would call electro pop. Although not fully knowing what individual songs were actually about (having given up French longer ago than I can remember) I still felt that I was carried along by the album and that the stories were unfolding in front of me.
The word to best sum up this album would have to be unique. Even her cover of ‘imagine’ had an eerie electronic individuality that only Bix’s smooth breathless voice could instil into her songs. I think my favourite track is 'c’est si bon', one of the more pop orientated songs on the album but with a very catchy guitar beat and some great underlying sounds, it picks you up and bounces you along on a happy wave of light electronics and Bix’s sweet as chocolate melodic voice.
Freak Owls is the brain child of Josh Ricchio. After spending many years in different bands Ricchio has taken the step and produced an album of his own featuring vocal and instrumental support from Kolby Wade, Cody Geil, and Kerry Beach.
This New York band has put their own spin into the traditional acoustic melodies of years past with obvious influences from the greats such as ‘Nick Drake’ (covering one of his songs, ‘Place to Be’) Freak Owls have mixed modern styled music with traditional styles.
The soft sounds of the tracks carry you away from the hustle and bustle of every day life with songs that would not sound out of place alongside The Shins on the “Garden State” soundtrack. Freak Owls are bringing the perfect summer evening wrapped up in this 9 track album.
This album is a balanced blend of Nick Drake and Paolo Nutini with a just a little splash of the chilled out I Monster, it is the perfect cocktail to lighten any day and drift just above the mundane to the musical landscape Josh Ricchio and his friends have so exquisitely painted for us. 8/10