Album Reviews: January 2004

 

Marc Almond – Heart On Snow (Blue Star)

I wonder whether Marc Almond has been given the keys to Moscow or something since he recorded this. You see, it’s an album of Russian romance songs, and the guy is just so good at it that you sometimes start to think he IS Russian. Maybe he should start calling himself Markus Almondov for a while, just to see whether anybody notices.

Anyway, “Heart On Snow” has its fair share of showstoppers, and I think that’s the only way you can describe this album – a bunch of show tunes that could have been plucked from one of the greatest musicals ever written.

Some of the melodies herein will send a lovely, tingling sensation down your spine – “Gosudaryunia”, “So Long the Path (So Wide the Field)” and “Nuit De Noel” all achieved this effect with me amongst others, while simultaneous tracjks make you feel like you should be swaying in a Russian bar along with a load of mates – half empty pitchers strewn about all over the place.

The last time I remember anyone doing anything even VAGUELY like this was The Wedding Present’s “Ukrainian Sessions” way back in the eighties. And, on both occasions, the artist has turned up trumps. If only we could convince Westlife of this and then pack them off to Bosnia… 8/10

Tone E

 
 

 

An Pierle – Helium Sunset (Helicopter/Artful Records)

I know in this month’s interview, An Pierle said she preferred her music to be compared to early Roxy Music than anything else, but there’s no getting away from the fact (for me at least) that this sounds more like Tori Amos than anybody.

Shw shouldn’t be ashamed or upset about this though – Tori has done some top stuff in her time and on this evidence, An Pierle’s career will span for just as long.

“Sorry” is a touchingly tender opening track on an album littered with gems both lyrically and musically. I mean, who can fault a woman that comes up with the line “I’ve got a pretty face, which automatically implies I’m dumb” in the PJ Harvey-ish “Sister” or “strange, in troubled water I am drowning in a goofy way” from the albums highlight “Medusa”…

Gorgeous melodies, a voice to die for and a wonderfully understated production all make this an excellent investment for your collection. 9/10

Tone E

 
 

 

The Church – Forget Yourself (Cooking Vinyl)

I don’t think this Aussie outfit would deny that they sound rather a lot like U2, but let’s face it – I think when you get to a stage in your career where you’re releasing your 17th album, that fact is of little consequence.

What IS important though, is that the band still actually seem to CARE about their music and this, it would seem, is why they have been performing and releasing albums of an extremely high quality for nearly a quarter of a century now!

As opposed to the group’s previous albums, “Forget Yourself” was recorded as pretty much a “live” four piece with only minimal overdubs added later. This probably explains why the intensity of the record is so great and you really do feel like you are in a tiny room sharing a spliff with them, and then lying prostrate on the studio floor whilst the band serenades you in the background.

A very relaxed album, and certainly one of the best records they’ve released in a very long time. 9/10

Tone E

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Cracker/Leftover Salmon – O’ Cracker Where Art Thou? (Cooking Vinyl)

This is a bizarre listen for those of us who are familiar with Cracker’s previous output. After all, it’s an album full of re-interpreted versions of the band’s best known (and not so well known) tracks from the past.

“Get Off This” for example is given a bluegrass style makeover, and perhaps the group’s most famous release, “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” is rather astonishingly interpreted as a UB40 like white reggae tune!

Having only played the album a couple of times so far, it remains to be seen whether the novelty value will eventually wear off, but for the time being at least, seeing classic tunes such as “Eurotrash Girl” turned into a ridiculously countrified twang is really rather satisfying!

“O’ Cracker Where Art Thou?” indeed! It makes me want to reform MY band and record all OUR songs as ancient folk tunes! 8/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Clayhill – Cuban Green (Eat Sleep)

So called after band member Ali spotted a gardener in Cuba trimming his lawn with a pair of scissors(!), “Cuban Green” is a six track mini lp that precedes the group’s forthcoming album.

It kicks off in deliciously delicate style, with the Gomez tinged lazy summer ditty “Figure of Eight”. Then think “The Bends” era Radiohead for “Face of the Sun” and couple that with Dizzy Valise for “Hour Glass”.

It’s the more uptempo numbers where the band come into their own though, and perversely, where the music is at its most beautiful. “Grasscutter” is evidence of this, using a brass section in a similar vein to the Divine Comedy and pulling it off to tremendous effect.

“Kind of Man” reminded me of Travis too much for me to care much about it, to be frank, and thankfully that one lasted only a little over two minutes. Final track “So Far Out” is of a similar ilk but gets away with it thanks to the intensity of its melody.
So, overall, a fairly assured and confident mini album that really grabbed me in places but left me cold at others. 7/10

Tone E

 
 

 

The Experimental Pop Band – Tarmac & Flames (Cooking Vinyl)

Wow. How did this band ever slip my attention? I am reviewing this album after Leicester City have let slip a 3-1 lead at Middlesbrough, conceding two goals in injury time and I was thoroughly depressed before I put this on. They’ve achieved miracles by lifting my spirits as much as they have so all credit to them for that!

Vocalist Davey Woodward says he “prays that the album sounds like nothing else you’ve heard for a long time”. Well, I don’t know about that – there are shades of Blur, Clearlake, New Order and the Beautiful South throughout after all.
That said, there was the odd moment that put me in mind of The Chesterfields and I haven’t heard of THEM for ages!

You do, however, find yourself confronted with some “weird out moments”, most notably on “Mir” which takes the form of an early Saint Etienne track with Baz Luhrmann type musings over the top, albeit by a female voice.
Several songs on “Tarmac & Flames” could be considered chartworthy – “Weekend” and “The Hippies Don’t Know” are both surefire hits if they are given the necessary backing. Then there are the darker melodies such as “Desert Me” – read Adorable as a yardstick.

Add to all this the intriguing artwork (the shadow of a cow/moose? standing next to a set of pylons) and amusing observational lyrics and you have what can only be described as a wonderful album. In fact, the only reason I’ve knocked a point off is because they’ve used the incorrect form of “your” in the lyric booklet… cantankerous, me? 9/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Twilight Singers - Blackberry Belle (One Little Indian)

Twilight Singers were formed by ex-Afghan Whigs frontman over six years ago, and released t heir debut album "Twilight As Played By the Twilight Singers" in 2000, having written the crux of it three years earlier.

N: An album full of depressing subject matter, but presented in a hugely catchy and accessible manner. Pick up the lyric notes listed inside the CD booklet, and discover a collection of perfectly written words that accompany the rock refrain offered here. Greg, as we've already ascertained, used to be frontman with the Afghan Whigs, and this clearly bears all the hallmarks of this former incarnation, although this album is stronger than even those. Such a wonderful release at this early point in a New Year, I hope it's remembered around about the time such works should be.

T: Just to add my sixpence worth, Greg often sounds like Joe Strummer and Shaun Ryder at various points of this record, and worryingly, occasionally you get the odd track that sounds like an early Bryan Adams tune. Thankfully though, those moments are few and far between, being the only downside to the record. Still, like Nick said, it's dark and broody and a great album. 9/10

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Air - Talkie Walkie (Virgin)

Well, they created one of Tone's all time favourite albums with "Moon Safari" a few years ago, but can the unusual French duo do it again?

T: Well, they're still just as chilled out as they always were, but it no longer feels as though they are rubbing your tummy to try and ease the pain. In the past, Air have always made you feel as though you're being led on a fantastical underwater adventure Alice In Wonderland style to a faraway utopia that keeps you in a permanent state of ecstacy. They DO occasionally achieve that here, but there are other moments that leave you a little cold. Still, it's a fairly impressive album all the same.

N: Air may not be the sort of group who are going to stop traffic, but I think their contribution to a better musical world is undoubtedly their greatest asset. Building structures of wonderful marvel. But to comment on the earlier remark, once they've led us toward Utopia, do they need to do the same again? I feel that this album is played from within that place.

T: And the more I listen through this latest release, the more I realise that I'm still in that world too. This is fantastically chilled out and the world is a better place with Air in it. 9/10

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Madrugada - Grit (Music For Nations)

This Norwegian band has built up an impressive following across Europe with number one albums, hit singles, numerous awards and apparently "blistering" live shows.

T: A bit like Iggy Pop and the Stooges, but, and I hate to say it, far less exciting. It feels so formulaic now, and much too derivative of what's gone before to instill much enthusiasm in me.

N: A group from the East side of the pond, who are producing nervous rock with the feel of New York attic. I'd agree with the previous comment, this is perhaps too lazy to justify such esteem. In no way deserving to be disregarded, meybe just a little too stoned.

T: To its credit, the standout tracks by a mile are the ones that sound like early Primal Scream ("I Don't Fit" for example), and those are worth buying the album for alone. 7/10

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The Devils - Dark Circles (Tape Modern)

Last year, Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy and Nick Rhodes collaborated for the first time since they formed Duran Duran in 1978. And this is what they came up with...

T: This is an excellent album. Dark and broody in places and refreshingly different throughout, the duo borrow influences from artists as diverse as the Beloved, Donna Summer (come on, don't tell me you haven't noticed a similarity between the basslines for "Big Store" and "I Feel Love"!), Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Japan and several sixties bands.

N: It's the 21st century, and yet we have the original Duran Duran making a statement in terms of new material, and the odd thing is, you will find this an infectious listen. All those influences and more. Two of the guys that were a contributing factor in making New Romantic...well...romantic. 8/10

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Amp Fiddler - Waltz Of A Getto Fly (Pias Recordings)

The quick fix or lazy way to describe Detroit's 'Amp Fiddler' could well be to call him 'Jamiroquai' in the right coat, but this artist whose ability in the naming of his work, ie 'Watlz Of A Getto Fly' has to be a downright original way of thinking and say's as much about the artist as will his work once you venture inside. Another approach would be to describe a musician with a 'phd' in funk, sold and jazz, such is the breath of work contained on this his long awaited debut and shows of the obseervations that have been rolled up in producing this slice of essential listening.

So where's he at? Well an untouched Prince may be one way to start, as the furls of funk now emerging from my speakers could well be easily mistaken for the artsist. But on this occasion a far more musically focused and lessed sexed up sound is heard, making it less a exhausting journey and more of a chilled out funkadelic one. I've heard this sound produced before, but it would have to be said in a number of places and maybe not quite so all encompassing as Mr. Fiddler manages to achieve. This guy's certainly got all the right moves and having formerly worked with Prince Rogers Nelson himself, Maxwell and Lucy Pearl it could even be said that the student may even one day become the master. 9/10

Nick James

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