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singles/eps - sep 2011



Howling Bells – Into the Sky (Cooking Vinyl)

The first track from their new album ‘The Loudest Engine’, this sees a triumphant return to the airwaves/turntables/microchips of MP3 players as Howling Bells’ distinctive pop meets goth sound is as entertaining as ever. There’s even room to accommodate some rock god style axemanship towards the end of the song without sounding too pompous. Well, maybe just a little pompous. 8/10
www.howlingbellsmusic.com

SB


 

Age of Consent – The Beach

The sound of Age of Consent is unmistakeably akin to that of their collaborators, producers and contemporaries. Big goth synths scream out the likes of Depeche Mode and Gary Numan are everywhere and what’s not to like about that. Well one thing would be that it gives the record a backward looking sound rather than forging forward, something you would not expect from the ex-members of Shitdisco. But all things considered, if you can write good songs then you have half a chance. And Age of Consent can write very good songs. 7/10
www.facebook.com/ageofconsentmusic

SB


 

The Human League – Sky (Wall of Sound)

Third single off 9th album “Credo” released earlier this year, and the first long-player from Phil Oakey and the girls for a decade.

Given that Little Boots, La Roux and others have led the revival of interest in early ‘80’s electropop over the course of the last couple of years, Oakey has made a shrewd move to re-visit the past and remind us all what an quite outrageously good pop band The Human League once were. In terms of whether the powers that be want to actually listen though, well that’s another question - the band were blacklisted by Radio 1 for not appealing to “the correct demographic” in the past and have spent the last few years languishing on the nostalgia circuit with the likes of Kajagoogoo and Heaven 17 for company.

As regards the song itself, “Sky” does re-assuringly show that Oakey’s deadpan sense of lyrical story telling is alive and well over a cosily familiar minimalist retro/electro soundtrack. He lets himself down though with the weak “Life goes on/Now you’re Gone” chorus that falls back on cliché to see it through and ultimately, though it does have it’s moments, this is not something approaching the quality of material on their 1981 behemoth “Dare”.

Of the remixes, both Fusty Delights and Martin Brodin pay tribute to earlier glories by remoulding the song to sound suspiciously like “Don’t You Want Me”, while The Hacker remix dispenses with the original track and sounds instead like the theme tune to long forgotten N64 console game Buck Bumble.

You kind of want The Human League to fight their way back to the level of song-writing quality they displayed in the past. There is a feeling of marking time to this though, and that’s a bit sad. 6/10

Rory Mac

 
 

The Dead Trees - 'World Gone Global' (Affairs Of The Heart)

'How did the world become your ashtray?' ask Dead Trees of their unnamed subject, in a lyrical turn worthy of Ben Folds, perhaps even Howard Devoto. Lyrics like that need a more enthusiastic tune than the LA slacker pop Dead Trees bring to the table though, melodic as it is.
www.myspace.com/thedeadtrees

JG

 
 

Prince Edward Island - 'You Look Like I Need A Drink'

The sound of a relationship crumbling eloquently. 'You look like your mother did in 73' is exactly the kind of comment that often leads to shouting and bruised shins, especially when its done in a Scots accent over a two chord tune that more than resembles an Idlewild B-side. Make it up in the morning you lot.
www.myspace.com/princeedwardislandband

JG

 
 

Patrick Cleandenim - 'Fish On The Sand' (Broken Horse)

Sort of angular number that has a nifty sounding keyboard break halfway through and might actually provoke dancing, in the right circumstances. Was this guy in The Drums or something?
www.cleandenim.com

SB


Maria Taylor - 'Matador' (Affairs Of The Heart)

Cheryl Crowe backed by PIL? It could work. Plenty of instrumental touches to enliven an already spirited guitar ballad including flute, gamelan and a sort of Led Zep guitar solo passage.
www.mariataylormusic.com

JG

 
 

Hans Commission - 'Roundabouts'

Frantic sounding artpunk that sounds like it was written at a taxi rank and recorded in a call centre. Alright if you like this sort of thing.
www.myspace.com/hanscommission

JG


 

Kutosis - 'Shadows' (Barely Regal)

Thumping great drum line and some warped guitar atmospherics, plus an alright tune holding it all together, and just when I thought it was going to end abruptly there's time for some extended thrash and reverb. A full three minutes of enervating frenzy.
http://kutosis.bandcamp.com

JG

 

Isaacs Aircraft - 'Mathematics' (Crash)

Post angular rap punk, and a chorus that contains more hooks than something with a lot of hooks attached to it. There's also an acoustic, sort of Craig David version of 'Mathematics' which proves that Isaacs Aircraft are very much more than your average amp bashers. The song probably works more effectively in its Artcore guise though.
www.isaacsaircraft.com

JG

 
 

Model Society - 'Systematic' (Label 51)

'I'm in love with an android warrior' is an at least memorable chorus, when repeated four or five times. Does the robotic object of Model Society's affections return the complement though? Perhaps if they went a bit more techno.
www.myspace.com/modelsocietyband

JG

 
 

The Kush - 'Aniseed'

Doomy intro that quickly breaks into some gritty hi-hat led agit funk, grinding basslines and some bluesy lead playing that only needs a more definite song ending instead of the slightly premature fade out. Second track 'Loose Lips' is enlivened by some properly grimy sax and a bluesy garage bass riff. 'Loose lips sink ships' went the WW2 saying, but it appears The Kush are remaining afloat (more involved joke referencing 1982 Frank Zappa album 'Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch' not shown here on grounds of obscurity).
www.myspace.com/thekushlive

JG

 
 

The Broken Vinyl Club – One Way Street (Acid Jazz)

The press release sums it up pretty accurately – The Broken Vinyl Club have ‘brought back the Beatles’ harmonies, The Stones’ Swagger, The Pretty Things’ attitude and The Monkees’ personality’. They do it with some aplomb. Why then does it sound so lacking in heart? Maybe because it is a sum of its parts and if you derive from so many influences then maybe you can’t really have your own heart beating at the centre of it. 5/10
www.acidjazz.co.uk

SB

 
 

City of Glass – The Diving Bell EP (Un-Famous)

We are introduced to Canada’s City of Glass by way of ‘Sticks and Stones’ which features some gorgeously intricate mathy guitar parts and which pays no small tribute to the likes of Foals. That said, it remains a bit bleak and lacks any warmth. The same criticism can’t be pointed at ‘Tourist’ with its thick synths and orchestration which Tears for Fears would be proud of. But time and again this EP fails to ignite – sure its cinematic and sweeping soundscape is beautiful to listen to but I bet you can’t remember any of the songs after the first few listens. On the plus side, sing Michael Champion looks like my friend Ian. 6/10
www.cityofglass.com

SB

 

 

Dels – Capsize (Big Dada)

I’m no expert on hip hop , not even much of a passing interest if I’m honest. But if everyone was turning out the sort of massive tracks that Dels has treated us to here then maybe things would be different. Combining a bass heavy beat (is that a bit of a Chemical Brothers’ ‘Keep My Composure’ sample in there?) courtesy of Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and duel vocal duties with Roots Manuva, Dels has turned out a dark, stomping classic here. 8/10

SB

 
 

Emika – Pretend / Professional Loving (Ninja Tune)

You’re half English, half Czech and you live in Berlin. Your parents gave you away at a young age and you are brought up by feral dogs in the suburbs, surviving off used takeaway wrappers, your eyes glinting in car headlights as you scamper from bin to bin. Well the first bit is correct at least but one can only guess at the inner workings and origins of Emika’s amazing, nightmare like sound. There’s no way that these tracks could be described as being particularly pleasant but they sure as hell are intriguing to the point of obsession. As if the synthetic pulse of ‘Pretend’ wasn’t disturbing enough, ‘Professional Loving’ incoherently marries Emika’s fragile vocal with gut wrenching bass in a surprisingly successful combination. Though nothing should surprise me about Emika anymore – she’s simply one of the most exciting and mesmerising artists around at present. 9/10
www.emika.co.uk

SB

 
 

Penguin Prison – Fair Warning (Stranger)

I’m not sure it’s fair to review this track after being contained in an Emika bubble for the last twenty minutes. From the deeply claustrophic introspective atmosphere of ‘Pretend’ we are jettisoned into discoworld where Penguin Prison are making perfectly good synth pop in the style of The Human League with a tinge of Jim Kerr. It’s OK, really it is, but I think I still need to get my head and ears straight and back into the idea of listening to ‘OK’ music. 6/10
www.penguinprison.com

SB

 
 

Anja McCloskey – And Her Head / Impeccable (Sotones)

Ah, vive lad difference. Always good to get something off the beaten track and just because it features an accordion and silky voiced chanteuse, don’t pigeon hole Anja McCluskey as out and out folk. In fact ‘And Her Head’ would fit a little more neatly in a haunting shanty sub-section of folk, but I don’t think you’re going to find that section in HMV. Wonderfully off kilter arrangements add a gravitas and there’s a superb organic feel to the production, reminiscent of Lionshare. 8/10
www.anjamccloskey.co.uk

SB

 
 

Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Atlas Hands

I’m not sure why, but there’s something about this third single outing on Tasty which makes it my favourite to date (so much for familiarity breeding contempt). It’s all the usual tools – the breathey vocals, the cute picked guitar and minimal arrangement but it just sounds better – I’ve broken through my Leftwich wall7/10
www.benjaminfrancisleftwich.com

SB

 
 

Raffertie – Visual Acuity (Ninja Tune)

Can there be a more consistently challenging yet rewarding label than Ninja Tune around at the moment. Latest off their impressively long conveyor belt is classically trained producer and DJ Benjamin Stefanski, trading in tunes as Raffertie. This four tracker will you push you to the edge of your sense. The hyperactive plurality of ‘Visual Acuity’ is tempered by the warmer Aphexy ‘You Could Be Forgiven For Thinking That’. ‘Twitch’ sees Raffertie put Fatboy Slim in a blender then spatter him out all over a very large sub woofer before things are rounded off with the more Balearic ‘Mimetic. Diverse and consistently brilliant. 9/10
www.ninjatune.net

SB

 

Squarehead - Fake Blood (Richter Colective)

Joyous surf pop or more like Scottish miserabalists Jesus and Mary Chain? Maybe I just don't get this reverb laden guitar pop and falsetto vocal stuff - it all just sounds a bit boring to me. 5/10
www.squarehaus.tumblr.com

SB

 

DEVolution – Good Love (One More Tune)

Very nearly happy hardcore warbly vocals? Please, I’d be the laughing stock amongst my friends if I put this on during a, err, dinner party, no matter how good the bass drop is. For the anoraks amongst you, DEVolution is part made up of the other half of Artful Dodger that isn’t Artful. That make any sense at all? Don’t worry, save your time and don’t worry about it, or this track for that matter. 4/10
www.facebook.com/wearedevolution

SB

 

Double Muscle – Tommy (Best Enemies)

The welcome return of Leeds scuzzters Double Muscle heralds another wonderful slice of free flowing, garage noise in ‘Tommy’, backed with the equally excellent ‘Lungs’ and a cover of Minutemen’s ‘Cut’. This time Best Enemies have paired the band with artist Twoduckdisco to produce a limited run of 50 prints to go out with the record. All sounds a bit New Order/Blue Monday-ish – impossible to make any money from, and that is exactly another reason exactly why you should seek this out – the music and the band ethos sound exactly like a group who care more about the music than the industry. 8/10
www.doublemuscle.bandcamp.com

SB

 
 

Ladytron – Mirage (Nettwerk)

As I’m having a bit of a resurgence in interest in Ladytron of late, this single from the new album ‘Gravity the Seducer’ comes extremely well timed. It’s classic Ladytron, as Helen Marnie’s distinctive vocals sit easily over a flutey synth melody and continental cool bass line. It’s multi-textural and layered almost like an orchestral piece – straight on the playlist for grown-ups who like electro. 8/10
www.ladytron.com

SB

 
 

Hook and the Twin – Tribes

It’s always good to hear something that is difficult to pigeon hole and ‘Tribes’ fits perfectly into that category (did you see what I did there?) It’s a heady but energetic mix of brumming bass and spectral, lightly disembodied hi hat and vocals. Prog synths complete the day to make it one cool cucumber. 8/10

SB

 
 

Sarah Williams White – Hide the Cracks / Charlie (Minds on Fire)

AT first glance I thought Sarah Williams White had a serious narcotics problems – ‘Hide the Crack’ and ‘Charlie’? What a difference an unnoticed letter ‘s’ makes. In reality these two tracks are very slick – white combines a traditional soulful approach with modern production techniques which warp and distill these tracks into something great, like a cross between the kookiness of Dani Siciliano and the dark punch of Emika. 8/10
www.hidethecracks.com

SB

 

Janice Graham Band – Murder (Acid Jazz)

‘Murder’ has a noticeably ska vibe to it, tinged with a bit of urban grittiness (which reminds me a little bit of Asian Dub Foundation in outlook). It’s not trying to skim over the surface of social ills, more likely to highlight a few current issues, which, let’s face it, there are plenty off. I’m not sure why but I’ve always found this sort of track quite claustrophobic and oppressive but if that was the Janice Graham Band’s intention then it would be hard to criticise them for it. 7/10
www.acidjazz.co.uk

SB

 
 

Aloe Blacc – Green Lights (Epic)

When you are following up such a massive hit as ‘I Need a Dollar’ you’re going to be hard pressed to match it. Fair play to Aloe Blacc, he gives it a good go with five versions of the same track on this promo, but ultimately it sounds more Lighthouse Family than Family Stone. 5/10

SB

 
 

Cue Fanfare – Robot / Leda and the Swan

I’ve got some weird kind of weakness when it comes to beautifully packaged promos. I’ve also got a bit of an unexplainable penchant for brown Manilla paper so double win for Cue Fanfare here. There is some logic to my approach here – if someone is willing to make a bit of an effort and just email a link or stuff a CDr in an envelope then the chance are they have taken a bit of effort over the music. That is entirely the case with Cue Fanfare who provide two exquisitely performed and recorded tracks here, full of all the tricks you would expect from former Santa Dog members Rowena Dugdale and Rob Williams. Beautiful ringing guitars and engaging vocals firmly reinforce the old Santa Dog sound. This isn’t music for youthful spiky post punkers but for anyone who enjoys the craftsmanship that goes into making perfect indie-pop tracks it’s practically the template. 7/10
www.cuefanfare.com

SB

 
 

Herve feat. Cadence Weapon – Roll With the Winners remixes (Cheap Thrills)

The result of a competition allowing producers to remix Herve’s collaboration with Cadence Weapon, these three tracks are put together for our listening pleasure. Seems they still can’t decide as there are two versions by duo The Mane Thing and one further by Housesquare. That said, the Housesquare Chicago house version is massively distinctive against The Mane Thing, thoroughly disassembling the original and mashing it up in a big warehouse club sort of way. 7/10

SB

 
 

AWOLNATION – Sail

‘Sail’s slow, menacing assault on electronic is more soulful than usual and sees Aaron Bruno’s band transcend the niche and enter the realms of mainstream indie. The backing track to this sounds like it has been wrought in a steelworks somewhere – substance like that you cannot avoid. 7/10
www.awolnation.com

SB

 

Maria Taylor – In a Bad Way (Affairs of the Heart)

Taylor’s languid bluesey approach to singer songwriting fits her background perfectly, being based in Birmingham as she is. That’s Birmingham, Alabama of course, not Birmingham in the UK – that may have resulted in this track sounding like Slade or something much less palatable than it is. 8/10
www.mariataylormusic.com

SB

 

Butterfly Fan the Inferno – Sunset Scavengers/i Coma (BFTI)

I’m a little surprised to hear that Butterfly Fan the Inferno have toured with the likes of And So I Watched You From Afar (though if their musical friendship was based on a mutual admiration of prosaic band names then it would be understandable). I can hear the comparisons with Queens of the Stoneage in the choppy guitar lines but it’s a bit of a sanitised sound compared with ASIWYFA. ‘i Coma’ is much more plausible, consisting of lots of interweaving, building melodies but again it seems to run out of grunt when it gets to a bit of a disappointing chorus. Both tracks are perfectly serviceable rock music but lack that bit of edge which will make them stand out from the crowd. 6/10
www.myspace.com/butterflyfantheinferno

SB

 
 

Richmond Fontaine – Lost in the Trees (Trash Aesthetics/Decor)

Richmond Fontaine are one of those bands that have always been around the periphery of my consciousness but have never made it into the realms of making themselves known. But with this track they have broken their duck and announced themselves as one of those bands who manage to make a pretty simplistic song sound just brilliant by levelling huge amounts of gusto, attitude and devil may care attitude at them. ‘Lost in the Trees’ yomps along like a run in a nightmare, a perfect allegory to being lost in the trees. Musically there are elements of Screaming Trees sound in there too – all in all an impressive package. 8/10

SB

 

Beyond Dreams of Grandeur – s/t

Birmingham five-piece Beyond Dreams of Grandeur debut their melodic hardcore in this self-titled EP this September. It may be quite good - sadly I’m not the man to say. Melodic hardcore leaves me completely ambivalent – it’s all so very earnest isn’t it? Hardly a recommendation but for what it’s worth, I’d say this is no worse than any other hardcore release I’ve heard this summer. 6/10
www.myspace.com/beyonddreamsofgrandeur

SB

 

Fake Blood – Deep Red EP (Cheap Thrills/Blood)

People who go clubbing regularly must have a lot of patience because it takes up to two minutes of listening to nurdling house before anything of interest happens in ‘Deep Red’. After which, it has to be said, things really pick up- so why not make it a two and half minute song? That’s the trouble with reviewing dance music isn’t it? By definition it’s music to dance to but we sit here and listen to it then try and judge it. Maybe you need two minutes of thumping repetitive bass drum before you get dancing properly. Fortunately the growly robot ‘Voices’ makes up for the short fallings of ‘Deep Red’ and is much more listenable as a stand alone activity. 7/10

SB

 

Peanut Butter Lovesicle – Heavy Daze Wildcat Craze EP

No surprises – this is unapologetic psyche tinged prog-rock. As is the want with these things, a few of the tracks have the propensity to amble around in freeform breakdowns and jams where they might be better off being a bit more focussed. ‘State of I’ strangely reminds me of the north-east’s The Sound Explosion – not bad when PBL are from Brooklyn. The very fact they are so similar to a now defunct group speaks volumes – I’m missing the musical relevancy here of this EP. 5/10
www.peanutbutterlovesicle.com

SB

 

Various: To Do is to Dare EP (Philophobia)

I’m not sure how much you have to shell out for this EP but it features the rather nice idea of three mini CDs, one for each band on display, all packaged together as a sampler of sorts. These things can either go one of two ways – even if you like one of the acts, you may find the other two completely irrelevant. Alternatively you may get introduced to something completely out of your normal listening sphere and really enjoy it. This is especially the case with this combination of acts as they are also diverse in style.

Kicking off is Wakefield’s ‘Above Us the Waves’ and their anthemic miserabalism. Personally I rather like their lo-fi approach and energy – similar to the likes of early Idlewild. 8/10

Hold on to your hats – we have a chasmic change of direction here with the electro glitch of Gary Gore & E.E. Viles on disc B. Very interesting indeed - there’s a womb-like cosiness to this work yet cinematic elements are also worked into the overall sounds. 8/10

And finally with Disc C we have Daniel Lancaster which returns us to a much more recognisable indie pop template, the likes of which we’d expect to see on Thee SPC or Fortuna Pop! Lancaster’s vocals meander around barely in tune with the pretty melody yet this just reinforces the strength of the songs. 7/10

SB

 
 

Butcher Boy – Imperial (Damaged Goods)

Very catchy, intimate yet sweeping melodies and thoughtful lyrics make this single a hidden treasure. I say hidden – it was released back in August but fell down the side of my desk – sorry about that. It’s amazing what you can do with such a simple palette of sounds – the drum machine, simple guitar and a Casio. 8/10
www.butcher-boy.co.uk

SB

 
 

Miles Kane – Come Closer (Columbia)

Scuzzy guitar and retro sensibilities seem to have been kept at bay here in favour of that ridiculously catchy chorus which I cannot believe you have not heard blasting out of your TV screen to some advert or other. I’m going out on a limb here to admit this is the first Miles Kane track I think I might like. I am a bit hungry though so maybe a lack of blood sugar is affecting my judgement. 7/10

SB

 
 

The Subways – We Don't Need Money To Have a Goodtime (Cooking Vinyl)

No surprises here in The Subways sound – it’s still that garagey scuzzy punk rock which The Hives trademarked 12 years ago. I’ve seen the Subways a couple of times and was suitably unimpressed (once was in the horribly cold arches underneath Leeds City Rail station) but with this track they’ve only gone and bloody nailed it. Axe lines, singalong choruses duly smashed. 8/10
www.thesubways.net

SB

 
 

Chris Devotion and the Expectations – A Modest Refusal / Tell the Girl (Armellodie)

Apart from their title, this band do not waste a moment on unnecessary musical whimsies. ‘A Modest Refusal’ is chocked full of it’s rock n roll infused indie pop and all done in under three minutes – perfect for the busy man about town. ‘Tell the Girl’ is equally hyperactive in a Jesus and Mary Chain meet the Fonz sort of way. 7/10

SB

 
 

Song of Trees – Only Road (Sounds Unique)

This all sounds like a bit of an indulgence by producer and Sounds Unique label owner Kevin Osborne. Slightly stuttering guitar which deliberately or not makes it sound someone has forgotten the tune plus some wishy washy drum machine backing make this a bit of a none event. 4/10
www.soundsunique.co.uk

SB

 
 

Scarlette Fever – Elated (Starfisch)

Support slots on the tours of Mike and the Mechanics and Roachford probably say it all. Might get a few Radio 2 listeners – though I thought these days even radio 2 was a bit too cool to play this. Awfully dull. 3/10
www.scarlettefever.co.uk

SB

 
 

Wetness - 360° EP (Cheaper Thrills)

Those cheeky Belgian buggers – this EP only goes and kicks off with 1983 – a track which steers us firmly over towards the Chicago techno end of the hard house spectrum. I’ve not heard speaker destroying sounds like this since Jeff Mills, although in this example delivered with a slightly Gallic/Flemish/Wallony slant. Basically if I heard this in a club I would shit myself with fright. The title track is a bit more gentle and slowly builds the bass rather than busting your eardrums from the off – more minimal and electro. ‘I Think I wanna Dance With You’ is as cheesey as it sounds, finishing off an otherwise pretty impressive EP a bit disappointingly. In fact you could say it’s a bit wet. Did you see what I did there? 7/10
www.facebook.com/cheapthrillsrecords

SB