Album Reviews: September 2003

 

Starsailor - Silence Is Easy (EMI)

Starsailor's second album is a fine article of song writing, production and composition - so it's pretty good then. 'Love Is Here' I played to death and if an album finds itself to this status in my record collection these days, it's good. I wouldn't say that the follow-up is necessarily ground breaking, but playing the two albums side by side you can detect the group have certainly moved forward and I regret to say (for 'Love Is Here' at least) - 'Silence Is Easy' certainly has what it takes to have pushed itself into 'pole position' in my estimation.

Produced on the most part by the band themselves, there are 3 exceptions, the title track and 'White Dove', worked on by a man who needs no introduction - Phil Spector and 'Sharkfood' whose production credit comes from in the form of John Leckie (Radiohead/Stone Roses). Finest moments come in the immediacy of tracks 'Music Was Saved', as well as the albums signature tune and the dance-rhythms found on 'Four To The Floor'. Although the rest of the album could well be described as a slow burner in various shades, it all adds up to making this that winner I was so unsure I'd find. 9/10

Nick James

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Muse – Absolution (Taste)

Already a smash hit number one album in the UK, Muse’s latest release shows just why the band has become the colossus that it now is. “Absolution” kicks off in dramatic fashion with “Apocalypse Please” and gives you the impression that you’re being led into one of the finest masterpieces of the 21st century…and you know what? It doesn’t disappoint. Next track “Time Is Running Out” was surely one of the greatest three and a half pop singles ever to have dented our top ten. Matt Bellamy has the skill of vocal intensity down to a fine art, as is shown in the beautiful epic that follows, “Sing For Absolution” and this, for me, is why Muse stand head and shoulders above so many of their contemporaries. Next up is the downloadable single only “Stockholm Syndrome” and already you’re starting to wonder if this truly is a work of genius. The rather touching “Falling Away From Me” does nothing to dispel those thoughts either. Those of us who manage to make it to a hearty seventy years of age will probably listen to this in our rocking chairs and remember it as a “tender love song”. There then follows a supposed “Interlude” but this really is just a stripped down outro of the previous track, before we are treated to the band starting out like an early Roxy Music and then totally “rocking out” on the album’s most obvious choice for a future single, “Hysteria”. Well, that’s eight songs gone now (if you include “Intro” and “Interlude”) and every one of them is superb. Surely it can’t get any better than this…can it? You’d better believe it! Those of you who adored the Mellow Muse of “Unintended” will be thrilled to find Bellamy doing his best impression of a 1930s crooner on the sparse but string laden spine chiller “Blackout” before we are built gently back up by the ridiculously theatrical “Butterflies and Hurricanes”. In fact, SO theatrical is this album that it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find it listed under “Classical Music” in your local record store. “The Small Print” is like a wake up call, breaking up all the dreaminess as we are walloped violently about the head by three masked men wielding baseball bats, but oddly enough, we enjoy it immensely. If you can get past the fact that “Endlessly” sounds uncannily like the theme from “Howard’s Way” early on, you will be treated to another bleak but effective tragi-ballad that this band seems to pull off so incredibly well. At first, “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist” seems to be where the album finally falls down, but then the sucker punches are thrown and this breakneck killer turns out to be one of the finest tracks on it. Unsurprisingly then, Muse deliver a dark and broody haunting finale to close the album. “Ruled By Secrecy” is as compelling and captivating as the rest of this spectacular album is. Overall, a remarkabe third album; one that betters even its own two outstanding predecessors. In a nutshell, a classic on a grand scale. Quite incredible. 10/10

Tone E

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Doves - Lost Sides (Heavanly Recordings)

So I'm presented with a press release that starts by justifying this release in explaining almost a brief history of the b-side and it's musical relevance. Well that's all well and good, but that you have to do so with this album is absurd. As is continued this "is an album that stands up against most new studio albums", so yes you've guessed it this is a compilation of b-sides and rarities.

This technique as I recall used to be a rather tacky way of fleecing the honest punter of a few more of their hard saved quid, but there are always exceptions to every 'rule' and this is one such exception. These are set of songs that have produced a well put together album, with music taken from the 'Lost Sides' - or put another way those gems that found themselves missed by airplay and only picked up by the hardest of fans and listeners alike wishing to squeeze every last drop out of the 7"/12" and CD they had just aquired.

There are none of the mixes that to be honest I loathe and quite often find themselves on the flip nowadays, just versions or reworkings of a familiar song ordinarily found on the former two 'Lost' albums, '...Souls' and '...Broadcast'. In the passages here you will find some very worthwhile listening, tunes where it is obvious the group were honing their 'craft' and led to the producing of 2 very fine albums. One such case is the blatent Warren Zevon borrowed melody found on 'Hit The Ground Running', although I have to say that Martin Coogan's 'Mock Turtles' recorded a better
'Willow's Song', but everything is open to interpretation so don't let this cloud your judgement.

Instead of taking the tried route in dismissing this outright (as I may have done myself), take a listen, even if it's on the 'listening post' of your local record store and discover just how special an album this is and one that is truly worthy of joining the collection comprising former 'Lost...' albums. 7/10

Nick James

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The Wannadies – Before & After (Cooking Vinyl)

“Little By Little” opens this album – no, thankfully not a cover of the recent Oasis hit, but rather a toe tapping throwback to seventies glam rock that you could imagine The Sweet doing, but hey, it works. Next track “Nothing Wrong” is a nice dirty thumper of a tune (I promise you, I don’t often think of Thumper in this way) and is followed by the amusingly titled “P*** On You” which is probably what you’d get if you locked Eveclear, Eels and They Might Be Giants in a room together for a few hours. “Skin” starts off rather like Franz Ferdinand’s recent underground smash “Darts of Pleasure” but soon develops into another catchy uptempo indie pop song that really is the Wannadies’ forte. “Uri Geller” follows in a similar vain, as does the album’s standout track “All Over Me”, but by this time you’re thinking that the whole thing’s really just been a little too sunny and you’re demanding a reprieve. Now, the latter was the last tune of what encompasses the “Before” part of the record and in moving to the “After” half, we find the band in a far more chilled out and breezy form with the ironically titled “Disko” – probably the least danceable track on the whole album. “Singalong Son” is a little twee to be honest. In fact it sounds like something that Boy Scouts would sing around a camp fire. Then again, maybe that was the band’s intention. I can’t help getting the impression though that on their catchiest tunes, The Wannadies border a little too closely on nursery rhyme territory. Best track by a mile on after is the effortlessly dreamy “Come With Me (Till Things Get Better)” which is a perfect stress killer for those of us who think it’s the end of the world just because we’ve dropped a slice of toast face downwards on the floor. Listening to “Happy”, you half expect Omar to break in with “There’s Nothing Like This”, such is the similarity of the bassline. Again though, this is a little twee lyrically. “Can’t Stop You” starts off like use, and conjures up a plethora of bands throughout, including Athlete, Coldplay, Radiohead and Supergrass. Interesting. Closing track “Love Letter” is probably the closest this band has ever come to a “love song” and, whilst it’s very pleasant on the ear, it’s one that I suspect would bore the living daylights out of you once you’ve heard it a handful of times. Don’t get me wrong here, this is another top album where the strong tracks far outweigh the weaker ones, but “Before & After” is docked just a couple of points purely on the basis of those few moments of contrived predictability.
8/10

Tone E

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James Hardway - Big Casino (Hydrogen Dukebox)

With several albums under his belt over the last decade, James Hardway returns with an eclectic collection of dance tracks. A fusion album that blends latin, techno, house and electronica with exotic melodies and rythms to create a simply wonderful listening experience. All of the tracks are quite long, at least 4 mins. This gives the tracks time to embed themselves in your mind. This album is very easy to listen to and samples from many genres and styles. The obvious talent that drives the way sound and rythmn are used and the tight production make it an album that will be listened to over and over.

The album begins with 'Feel in Love'. A latin infused groove with sexy female vocals that are seductivley underplayed. Several layers of sound and percusion build into a subconcious melodic festival. The track never feels repetitive although lasting over 5 minutes. A great start. James then moves into a deeper, slightly darker but funky track. Again distant female vocals tantalise your eardrums while the slick breakbeat gets the rest of you jumping. The next tune which I adore is 'Time to go'. A superb jazz bass line, twitchy house beats and funked up organ stabs create the platform for the rest of the track. An atmospheric blend of string melodies weave in and out.

Talking of atmophere, check out 'I dont wanna know'. A simple but very effective track with sad vocals by JB Rose, bongos, congos, acoustic guitar, piano notes and a very simple beat. This leads you unawares in to 'Rise Up'. Reggae vocals courtesy of Ghetto Priest give a genuinely uplifting feel. The beats gentle swagger in and before you know it you bobbin and weavin! Not that this is a bangin tune, its actually quite mellow but its just got that funkability that makes your hips jig.
The album finishes with the gentle tones of 'To be Found'. Minimal but worth a listen never the less.

This album brings together a wealth of influence, sound and melody. Its not the most heart racing album ever but it does manage to tune into something physical and that is difficult to escape from. Sonic synthetic genetics, go buy this. It will enhance you! Released on October 6. 9/10

Nic Caesar

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Laibach – Wat (Mute)

From French to Yugoslavian music. Hey, we’re cultured here at Atomicduster you know! The band were established in September 1980 in Trbovlje, Slovenia and launched their first multimedia project “Red Districts”, designed to challenge the striking contradictions of the town’s political structures at that time. The project was banned before it started, but it heralded an extensive career spanning nearly a quarter of a century. Amongst the oddities encased herein is an opening track that sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking whatever the American equivalent of a Party Political Broadcast is over a dance beat, and several compositions that are akin to those recent hit singles by US campsters Electric Six. So, basically, regardless of whether these lyrics are immensely important or politically aware, it still sounds like they’re taking the michael big time. I have a friend who is half German, so I think I’ll pass this on to him to put with his collection of David Hasselhoff records… 5/10

Tone E

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Rancid – Indestructible (Hellcat Records)

What is there to say about Rancid that hasn’t already been said? This, after all, is the band’s sixth full length album, and it hardly makes a departure from their trademark ska/punk blend that has helped them build up their fanbase in the first place. Never mind that though, I guess the guys don’t really want to break up a winning formula, and I think you have to respect that. Anyway, listen to “Indestructible” and you can easily detect where most of Rancid’s inspirations came from, so it’s no surprise to hear the late, great Joe Strummer as well as the Ramones namechecked so early on in the album. One other vocalist who sprang to mind that warrants a mention was Shane MacGowan, but, whoever is cited, one thing’s for sure - all those artists would have an admirable punk ethic. This is certainly a value for money release, featuring as it does nineteen tracks, and the shorter ones are no fillers either. In fact, “Django” and “Travis Bickle” are two of the highlights, though the best track on the album by some distance is the laid back “Arrested in Shanghai” with best Strummer impersonations at the forefront. I almost feel like Rancid are a Clash tribute band, but thankfully they are an original outfit that just happen to sound like them – and luckily for us they make a decent fist of it. 8/10

Tone E

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Dexy's Midnight Runners - Let's Make This Precious (The Best Of) (EMI/Universal)

1982 and struggling to come to terms with adolescence myself, 'Come On Eileen' became the hugely successful hit it did and I'm afraid to say that this just turned me away from the ultimately cool Kevin Rowland and his crew, looking back now I don't know why? 'Geno' had already become a top flight player two years or so previously, and what a tune - but I don't need to tell you that.

'Let's Make This Precious' documents the high points of the band's career (although no doubt will have missed gems that fans will find unbelievable) and is a very listen-able affair, in fact more so. Standing as a previously casual observer from the other side of the road, I have no hesitation in now stating that the album has made a fan and has done more in my now asking "why on earth didn't I get into this scene from the ground floor?"

In fact Kevin Rowland has been almost the epitome of sartorial elegance since their emerging on the music scene in 1978 - from soul stylist (maybe another term made up to describe the 'soul boy' of the late seventies) - yeah ok so the dungarees and wild 'crows nest' hair-do may have been better thought out, but later from Kevin's appearance in a sharp suit and his gender bending sleeve, where surely for any man to sport suspenders needs a round of applause - not that I'd ever admit to him actually looking good dressed in such a way (honest).

But this album is not about the fashion of a bygone day and its wearer, the massive artist he has become - no much less in fact in this light. To quote DeCurtis (Rolling Stone) from the comprehensive sleeve notes offered here, "The look - the visual creation and expression of an identity - is part of the essence of rock and roll" and as we continue "Substitute 'popular music' for 'rock'n'roll' - for Kevin Rowland has always been an unwilling associate of 'rock' ..."

So what does all this mean? Well a refreshing change from the so called 'pop-stars' that are almost force fed these days, where 'fame and presence' seems far more than what should surely be the aim - music and dare I say, integrity.

Returning to the road in late October for a 17 date UK tour, this album released a month earlier should surely pave the way and leaves me with nothing less to say than "Come On Eileen", but don't let the missus find out. 9/10

Nick James


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Tim Burgess - I Beleive (Pias Recordings)

The man who rose to significance from the 'baggy scene' of a decade or so ago, 'I Beleive' certanly rings of a quality album born out of more than just a passing trend. From early reservations of this release, I can say that I found the content here to be a real grower and not just the immeadiate rush found in a pop 'hit'. Perhaps describing this as a more mature recording, Tim has certainly found a more 'soulful' sound, where his vocal adds the familarity to make this not so distant from previous band releases. The surprise came to me when learning production came in the form of Linus (Puff Daddy/Lil Kim), although I found this the 'missing link' in my describing the 'feel' of the album. A strong and quite unexpected solo debut, very wothwhile. 8/10

Nick James

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Ben Charest – Belleville Rendez-vous (OST) (Delabel)

The soundtrack to an unusual French “adult” animated cartoon in which an old lady named Madame Souza sets out to try and find her grandson, Champion, who has been kidnappd by the Mafia during his debut in the Tour De France! Th music to accompany said feature is suitably wacky and often turns into old time music hall swing. It’s rather intriguing and is quintessentially French at the same time. I haven’t actualy seen the film but I can see how this music would work extremely well with Madame Souza’s antics along with her faithful hound Bruno. Give this album toyour grandparents for Christmas and you might just receive something other than a bottle of Old Spice in return. 7/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Japan - Gentlemen Take Polaroid's/Tin Drum/Oil On Canvas, Rain Tree Crow - Rain Tree Crow (EMI)

Alright, a short lesson in the oriental flavors that were, are and forever will be Sylvian, Barbieri, Karn and Jansen - otherwise known as 'Japan'. Now in the heady days of the 'New Romantic' movement that had appeared in the late seventies, early eighties, these guys were in fact a rather esoteric sort of glam-metal funk act, with a scary appearance and bad hair. This was pre-foppish sty-lee so it wasn't so much 'fringe' more a case of 'barnet' as I can recall, but whatever the reason, be it stylist or marketing suddenly they had cleaned up their act, sharpened their suits (added some make-up) and a phenomenon could see to have been born - followed by the likes of LeBon, Strange was always strange and George, well he has spoken and still does for himself.

Two earlier releases - 'Adolescent Sex' and 'Obscure Alternatives' had been released on the German Ariola-Hansa label at the back end of the seventies, but it wasn't until 1980's 'Gentlemen Take Polaroid's' that the world literally did more than just lift its gaze. Described as a 'landmark', this album skirted the top 40, but at this time the band's former label did a clever piece of re-marketing by re-releasing 'Quiet Life' and a cover of Smokey Robinson's 'I Second That Emotion'. This did the new material no harm at all - if not in hindsight steeling from the initial glory of what they had just created.

With Sylvian's distinctive vocal style and the combination of Barbieri, Karn and Jansen on musical duties this created an album with a wow factor for its day, surely far surpassing that of most. I did say this was a short lesson - so let's take it for the moment that GTP was if not a huge hit, certainly one of those albums you should really lay claim to and so skipping time we will find ourselves at the follow-up album, 'Tin Drum', which featured of course the haunting 'Ghosts', but really clocking in at a little under 40 minutes was maybe not ground-breaking enough as its earlier sibling (or maybe it's because I've played this in my past until the groves have bleed!) - so let's agree that this was a great album too. (Get the picture that I was somewhat of a fan?)

Japan were 'hot-property' at around this time and it could arguably be said that they were 'peaking too soon', so when in 1982 their demise was formally announced, Sylvian is noted as having commented that "When I finished 'Tin Drum', I felt I had written my ideal pop song" and who could argue that one? But with this inactivity came 1983's live opus, the double album 'Oil On Canvas' and what an album, well recorded and well packaged. This was really something else, a double vinyl I recall buying that worth every bit paid, from gatefold sleeve, to the artwork and printing.

So what have we here in these re-releases that should deserve shelling out again for another set of albums? In my time honored opinion, GTP may be considered a little naff - a digipak (the bain of music marketing) with ok maybe a few more artwork shots to show for a superb album - KEEP YOUR ORIGINAL VINYL and take care of it (7/10). TIN DRUM, better, your getting a boxed presentation pack with more artwork books, a 4 track disc featuring 'The Art Of Parties, 'Life Without Buildings', 'The Art Of Parties' (Live) and 'Ghosts' (Single Version) - essentially an EP, so ummm? (7/10) And to OIL ON CANVAS, well I've always liked this one and the presentation does this no harm, essentially the same (re-mastered, which as I recall will benefit this one, as they all are), but always a nice album, which I'm sure will complement the ropey vinyl copy. (8/10).

Now this is not the end of the story, no sir! And out of an all too brief reunion in 1991, saw the now renamed Rain Tree Crow release probably the best Japan album ever recorded - cleverly titled 'Rain Tree Crow'. An album of stunning content, from lyric, vocal, music, rhythms, everything really. When this was released I had no hesitation in marking this a 9 verging on full marks - quite astounding. Nothing that I can hear has changed here though, a great sound-scape, but wasn't it always. A few more photos (nice for the anal amongst us), but your probably still hanging onto this one on your shelves (8/10). I can't talk highly enough of this album though, if you want to rediscover your youth, or just discover, then OOC and RTC are most certainly albums you should own.

Nick James

 
 

 

Human League - The Very Best Of (CD and DVD) (Virgin)

Oh no not another Human League 'Best Of', a great band, but their label seems to have grasped the idea of remarketing with a lttle too much vigor in this band's history. However all other releases of this nature aside, I would have to describe this as 'The' Human League best of collection, a double album with 28 tracks - featuring not just Phil Oakey's greatest moments, but also a second disc rounding this off with a collection of mixes featuring Fluke, Majik and Trisco - maybe not the most well known of this genre, but valid all the same considering the Human League's humble beginings.

The DVD is a similar story, as clean and simple packaging surrounds the well presented 19 track main feature of tunes your sure to remember. As well as a visual record of a 'band' who found themselves pioneering electonic sounds, along with Kraftwerk of the late seventies and the New Romantic fashion of the early eighties, I confess to having been somewhat a fan, from those early times of Reproduction and Travelogue, through the heady days of Dare's Nipple peircing and Hysterias shocking longer hair and leather. It's all there, even the 'Top Of The Pops' and 'Later' performances, as well as rather rough cut footage of 'Circus Of Death' and 'Empire State Human', although no 'Being Boiled' I was dispointed to note.

As 'Best Of' collections go, these, as I say are pretty comprehensive, although as a DVD presentation of the 'group', it might've been nice to see some background and interview footage included. Yes we saw it all I'm sure when it was first shown, but as a 'snap-shot in time' I'd certainly have found this of value. 7/10

Nick James

 
 

 

Tim Deluxe - The Little Ginger Club Kid (Underwater Records)

The single released this year from this album have been superb. The rest of the album does match up but offers a bit less variety than expected. The comical tales of 'What a Life' told by Bugsy have you chuckling to yourself. No uplifting house beats though. Several of the tracks are collaborations with Ben Onono, Terra Deva, Sam Obernik and a few others. Tim manages to turn his hand to other sounds but the expected dynamic is not allowed to develop until the end of the album.

The album does have a very commercial feel to it, obvious or predictable rythmns, coupled with eardrum freindly sounds and beats. But thats not to say it isnt good. It just has a different sound to some of the more cutting edge material out there. Proof of this is the success of 'It just wont do' and 'Less talk more action'. These two tracks demonstrate the melodic writing abilities of Mr Deluxe, as does the track 'Story of you and Me'. Its a track we have all heard at some point in terms of its style and content. The execution in this case is what makes the track original. I think simply put, a lot of the tracks are very slick and sound very record label enhanced but that doesnt mean to say they arent good.

'Mundaya' featuring Shahin Badar is an Asian fusion of ethnic character and dance music. But it is done in such a way that some of the character has been diluted. Its too slick, too well produced, almost over produced. This even applies to the instrumental 'We all love Sax'. Its a good house tune for those that like the funky filtered disco sound. But its nothing new, its not pushing any boundaries.

I think the album as a whole is a great album in itself, but the execution has left me with a shallow and bland flavour. In isolation each track is great but together there is too much of the same style and no element is really being challenged. Well at least they saved the best till last 'Choosing something like a star'. This track does more than all of the other tracks in terms of trying to say something interesting. It also moves away from the Tim Deluxe signature sound which is a good thing as the success of recent releases has left his style over exposed, sounding almost past its best before?!. 6/10

Nic Caesar

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Agoria - Blossom (PIAS Recordings)

A good mixed bag here with a sound that encompasses french house/techno and the more general electronica sound without giving way to any particular type. The sound is reminiscent of Cassius and Daft Punk but has more of an edge. This is evident from the first track 'Think Different'. Gorgeous french house here! And again with 'Steroe Love'. Heavy guitar loops over electro beats.

There are some softer tracks on the album such as 'Worth it'. Love sick, cotton wool vocals from Ann Saunderson making this very sunset Ibiza! But there is some more out there stuff on the album too. 'Presque un Ange' and ' Organic' are more orchestral noise compositions than anything else but very interesting nevertheless.

Overall the album has an ambient feel to it, bar a few dance floor friendly tracks such as 'Spinach Girl'. One other track worthy of mention is the colaboration with Tricky 'TwoThousandThree'. Very atmospheric and almost creepy lyrics. Check it out! 7/10

Nic Caesar

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Erin McKeown – Grand (EMI)

Something of a child prodigy, 25 year old Virginian Erin McKeown started to play piano when she was aged just three. Now based in Massachussets, she has added many more strings to her bow with the acquisition of skills on bass, drums, and mainly guitar. She has been steadily increasing her fanbase and can point to various illustrious newspapers and magazines including Q and the Sunday Times who have encouraged new listeners with glowing praise. It’s easy to see why her following has been growing so freely since her debut album “Distillation” a few years ago, as her blend of sublime lyrics (“I begin where Garland died” – what a great line) and gentle Sundays style undertones are a joy to behold on the album’s best moments. Not that McKeown very often sounds like the Sundays but…hmmm…I really am struggling with this one. The sooner the ed gets better and returns the better. I mean, I have no “fall guy” to rely on here, or to bounce my ideas off for that matter. Or to ridicule even. Hey, I’m not even sure if I can be funny on my own…what do you reckon? Which one am I normally? Eric Morecambe or Ernie Wise? No? Tommy Cannon or Bobby Ball? Ah, come on…Keith Harris and Orville? Anyway, this is a lovely laid back album by someone who’s proved she is one of the best female singer/songwriters around at present. 8/10

Tone E

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Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story – Lunz (Gronland)

Brian Eno’s take on Rodelius’ music follows thus: “(He) is one of the true originals of modern music. His delicate and wistful compositions seem to come from some long and secret musical tradition – like the mediations of Sufi Poets, or the haikus of Zen Monks”. Well, quite. Really this is a modern day classical composer who, along with collaborator Tim Story and cellist Martha Reikow, has created a glorious masterpiece of striking beauty. Had the Future Sound of London not discovered synths, samplers and beatboxes, I would imagine they would sound like something not too far removed from this. The reason I say that is because “Life Forms” was capable of moving me to tears, and this has a similar natural radiance to that groundbreaking album. It’s very much an outdoor record and the overwhelming sense of belonging that overcomes you upon listening actually makes you feel quite humble. The opening title track bears a vague resemblance to Einaudi’s “Le Onde”, a wonderful piece of music in itself, and continues in a richly splendorous manner right through to the gorgeousfinale “Nevertheless” to create one of the most alluring albums you will hear all year 9/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Various Artists – GasCD (RAM Recordings)

Allow me to let the press release do the talking before I add my two penneth worth: “The CD and website were launched to raise awareness about the anti-globalisation movement and to raise money to help those who are at the frontline of the movement. Money raised initially in Canada has been going to aid the legal defence of those arrested during the Quebec Summit of the Americas. Money raised in the USA will be benefiting The Nation and Free Speech TV. Money raised initialy n Italy is going towards the independent activist radio network, Radio Gap”.

Very admirable indeed, although I have no idea really what they are actually going on about. Still, on to the music. Most of those artists featured are largely unknown here in the UK, but most of you wil hav heard of Bruce Cockburn, Michael Franti, Gil Scott Heron, The Tragically Hip and Barenaked Ladies. It’s refreshing to know that so many artists are willing to work for free for something they believe is worthwhile and actually that there ARE still people out there who care about the state of the nation. As for the songs on the CD, well to be honest, I liked slightly less than half of them (Cockburn’s “Call It Democracy” was the most impressive), but that’s not the issue here. Respect to all involved. 7/10

Tone E

 
 

 

David Hurn – He Was a Woman (Fire Records)

Apparently, David Hurn’s music “pushes lazy melancholia into a strange, uplifting 3am netherworld where the cares of the previous day meet the hopes of the dawn to come”. A pretty good description that, and whilst there are elements herein that bring the likes of John Otway, Clearlake and Blur in their most stripped down format to the forefront of your mind, “He Was a Woman” maintains its own direction and plagiarism is not something Hurn can be accused of. A reflective, laid back collection of ice cool melodies that are probably at their most effective in the early hours of the morning. 7/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Mountaineers – Messy Century (Mute)

How odd. I’ve just listened to this album and thought to myself “Hmmm, yes I’m sure I can detect some similarities with Beck in here…maybe even Gomez too. Some parts of this are very strong, others fairly weak, so I’d probably give this record six or seven out of ten”. Then I’ve gone to the press release and noticed that the ed has scrawled on it in his usual illegible spidery writing “Gomez…Beck…6 or 7). I am seriously spooked now! I hadn’t even looked at that press release before then! So either I’m cracking up or Nick’s got supernatural telekinetic powers. I just thought – ginger hair, telekinesis and an occasionally eccentric disposition…Help! I’m working with a male Carrie! 6/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Rocket Science – Welcome Aboard the 3C-10 (Eat Sleep)

Rocket Science’s follow up to the excellent “Contact High” is actually an album which was released three years ago in their native Australia as their debut, and whilst I think you can definitely say it’s neither as polished or as saleable as its follow up/predecessor, you can certainly see the flashes of genius that led to it. For example, you would be hard pressed to find another instrumental track that gives out the same vibrant fervour as “Jet Lag: Down the Pills”, and the “Magic Fly” like weirdout that is “Astrobird”. Many of this superb band’s compositions can most likely be traced back to evenings spent listening to the Velvet Underground (though admittedly you could probably say the same of most of today’s contemporary ‘indie’ artists), and these moments are arguably when Roman Tucker and his cohorts are at their very best. I doubt if you could discount the Doors as a major influence either. Best track in my humble opinion is the wonderfully raw “Synchronise Us” that is akin to Blur in their “We want to be Pavement” period of a few years ago. “Contact High” was better, but this is still top notch. 8/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Frank Black and the Catholics - Show Me Your Tears (Cooking Vinyl)

"Thirteen salty tears" is how Frank himself described this album.

T: The legend returns. Well he's certainly a legend in my eyes anyway, having recorded some of the finest work with both the Pixies and the Catholics known to mankind. Future single "Nadine" is a case in point, making all the right dirty noises, being followed by the mellow "Everything Is New" which, incidentally, on its rightful place on the album actually works better than it did as a single. This is not a sad album, much as Mr.Black himself would have you believe, it is in fact rather an optimistic one. Probably one of the best releases he has made with the Catholics.

N: I didn't think you'd need a reason to like this, but you've certainly backed up your reasoning well. 8/10

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Frank Black and the Catholics – Frank Black and the Catholics (Cooking Vinyl)

Asking me to review anything by Frank Black is a bit like asking Liam Gallagher if he thinks Oasis are any good. This is a re-release of the Catholics’ debut eponymous album, originally released in 1998. Needlss to say, it’s a superb record and features some of my favourite works of the band. “Do You Feel Bad About It?” is a snappy little two minute wonder and the sublime “Dog Gone” is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of genius the great man has ever lain down in all its exalted glory. In fact, this is one of those “all killer no filler” records that are so rare in this day and age. I remember way back when any rumour of a new Pixies album would send waves of excitement pulsing through my veins and they would never disappoint. Mush the same could be said of Black’s career both as a solo artist and with the Catholics, and I think the pivotal reason that I champion this legend so freely is that nobody has ever produced so much music that just makes me feel so alive. The man performs with such gusto on every recording I’ve ever heard of his and it’s a great pleasure to revisit an album of such vibrant qualities. See the stunning “I Need Peace” for confirmation of this, and I like to believe, biased fanaticism aside, I would have been glowing with praise for this album even if it were the first time I’d heard of him. Simply a stunning record, and the only reason it hasn’t attained a mark of ten is because this is a re-release and not a new one. Yes I know he’s already released three new albums in the last twelve months – there’s just no satisfying some folk is there? 9/10

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Spiritualized - Amazing Grace (Sanctuary)

The third album from this band has a lot to live up to after 1997's "Ladies and Gentlemen..." and 2001's "let It Come Down".

N: A searing guitar breaks the quiet and suddenly you're in the midst of another Spiritualized rush.

T: Yep. It definitely sounds promising from the opening gambit, and it's nice to see the guys have lost none of their creativity, with this album sounding not too much like either of its predecessors whilst oddly not sounding too dissimilar either. How on earth did they manage that?

N: Well when you're Jason Spaceman, surely you're winning before you've begun. Quite an unexpected album really, more gospel tinged than the usual sea of sound.

T: But it works well, and Spiritualized have created another album that may yet evolve into a masterpiece, given time. 7 or 8/10

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