Album Reviews: September 2004

 

The Wonder Stuff – Escape From Rubbish Island (Independent Records Ltd)

I’m surprised, to be honest. For some reason, despite being able to have called myself well and truly a “fan” in the Stuffies’ heyday, I didn’t expect this album to be very good. I don’t know why; I just didn’t.

How wrong could I have been?!!

Perhaps it was the absence of Martin Gilks, Martin Bell and Paul Clifford that planted this seed of doubt in my mind, but the fact is that it was always Miles Hunt and Malc Treece who were the main crux of the band – at least where the songwriting was concerned. Well, I’m delighted to say that they are on cracking form here, and, whilst not as instant as any of the band’s four previous studio albums, once you’ve played it a few times, it becomes simply adorable.

From the scathing attack on our country’s current climate that is the title track, through some absolute treasures such as the sublimely sad yet beautifully humorous “Another Comic Tragedy”, the smoky club feel of “Head Count” and the delicate and engaging “You Don’t Know Who…”, right up to the lilting swaggery of “Love’s Ltd”, this new six legged groove machine delivers in fine style.

Indeed, even the tracks that seem “average” on first listen (“One Step at a Time” and “Back to Work”) grow on you like a particularly stubborn nasal hair until you can’t help but embrace them.

As with everything the Stuffies have ever put out, it is when Miles is at his most sneeringly cynical that the album reaches its pinnacle – “Was I Meant To Be Sorry?”, “Bile Chant” and the delightfully catchy “fun” single-to-be that is “Better Get Ready For a Fist Fight” will confirm this.

Recently, my friend, colleague and editor was quick to caution me against “Blind Faith”. Well, not a bit of it here; I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that “Escape From Rubbish Island” is like having an old friend back who’s been in a coma for a decade. Sure, some of the nuts and bolts have been replaced, but the rest of that friend appears to be in full working order. Marvellous stuff. 9/10

Tone E

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Clayhill – Small Circle (Eat Sleep)

Fresh from their successful critically acclaimed mini lp “Cuban Green” earlier this year, Clayhill release their debut album proper at the end of September.

“Alpha Male” comes over like Ryan Adams chewing on a Radiohead sandwich, and you can see how much we liked “Northern Soul” over on our Singles Reviews for this month. Then “Moon I Hide”, the strongest track on the album in my humble opinion, feels like you’re floating lazily upon a raft on a particularly moonlit sea, on a warm summer night. “Human Trace” follows suit, and then it all gets a bit depressing…

That’s not to say it isn’t still very good; it’s just that I put this album on the other day when I was feeling a bit down in the dumps, and by the time it finished, I felt like jumping off the nearest Motorway bridge!

I don’t think Clayhill intended for some of these tracks to be as “down” as they are. In fact, in some of them, you get the impression they are overemphasizing the “moving” aspect a little too much. “Even Though” is a case in point, and, you remember how all those “shoegazing” bands did exactly that? Well, on “Rushes of Blonde” I got the impression that this band were staring so far down at their feet that their heads were between their knees! (Note for the Double-entendre fan: No, that’s NOT what I meant!)

The Coldplay like “Mystery Train” does little to lift the gloom, so it was a welcome reprieve to have the old friend “Grasscutter” (which featured on “Cuban Green”) back momentarily.

Listening to “Afterlight” makes Leonard Cohen look like the Laughing Policeman, and then something crossed my mind as the final track, “End Refrain”, played – your enjoyment of this record, and indeed of Clayhill in general, depends entirely upon your perception of the vocals. You may find them uplifting, you might think they are depressing, and you may find them irritating. Personally, I think all three descriptions fit.

Overall, it’s pretty good…just make sure you don’t play it after a bad day…especially if you live near Beachy Head. 7/10

Tone E

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Ske – Life, Death, Happiness & Stuff (Smekkleysa)

Bizarrely, the opning track here – “Stuff” – reminds me of Bob Luman’s 1960 hit “Let’s Think About Living” but set to a modern dance vibe (shit, did I REALLY say that? I sound like my dad!); I’m not saying it sounds like Luman’s song; it just has that same easy listening, carefree feel about it.

“Cowboy” is like “Wonderful Life” songsters Black joining forces with a heavily sedated Joy Division…as produced by Fiction Factory!

I can’t think of a single thing to say about “One Thing” to be honest, so I’ll move right on swiftly to “Le Tram”, which seems to be aspiring to be an Air type ballad along the lines of “All I Need” or “You Make It Easy”, and then “Julietta 1” confirms what I have always suspected – that the Icelandic people are clearly quite mad, although it’s oddly infectious to have this insane sounding Japanese woman singing over an electronic beat.

“Strange and Deranged” is like incidental music that leads up to the inevitable happy ending of a Hollywood film, and then that mad Oriental woman returns for part two of “Julietta”, which, to be frank, sounds like a Japanese version of the New Seekers.

If Weezer went out and got absolutely bladdered, then decided to write a song, “T.Rex” would surely be the outcome, and this, the final track on the album, is probably the most enjoyable moment of an album that is quite fascinating if nothing else! 7/10

Tone E

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Bird – The Insides (Ice Cream Records)

You won’t hear many more chilled out albums than this between now and the end of the year. Several tracks send a pleasant warm tingle down your spine, such as the lovely album opener “Behind Closed Eyes”. Not only that but you can actually call Janie Price “a gorgeous bird” without fear of being beaten with placards by irate extremist women’s libbers.

Anyway, listening to such gorgeous, serene lullabies as “We Care” and “Landslide”, the thought crossed my mind that she doesn’t really sound like anybody else at all. In fact, the closest I could come up with was Carole King, which is a compliment indeed.

“Rewind” is a tad too reminiscent of The Corrs for my liking, but that is followed by the best – and most commercial – track on the album “Slowly Slowly” which is not a million miles from being a cross between No Doubt and Garbage’s most recent output.

“Runaway” is, for me, the most throwaway moment of the album. Not that it’s a bad track – it’s just not particularly memorable either. Then young Janie comes over all Cat Stevens on us with the rather pretty acoustic charner that is “Falling Like Stars”.

“Love Songs on the Radio” is another potential single and “Shoes Should All Cost the Same” is surprisingly sweet considering the absurdity of the title. “Machine Ballerina” finishes this impressive debut album in the same haunting manner as it began.

A great first album from a solo artist who richly deserves to see her name in those illustrious “Ones to watch” articles that the tabloid music press is so fond of running. 8/10

Tone E

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22-20s – 22-20s (Heavenly)

This record screams “1960s throwbacks” at you from the moment the opening track, “Devil In Me”, kicks in. Surely this would be the result if Bob Dylan held a “songwriting party” and the guests included The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Byrds and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Burden, Chandler and co would appear to be the driving force at this party, judging by the next track, former NME Single of th Week “Such a Fool”, though you can imagine Jagger inciting the band to bare their teeth and growl more like the animals they purport to be.

Ding dong. Who could that be at the door? Hey, it’s Lou Reed and John Cale! Come in!
“Never mind that shit”, says John, “you need a more alternative edge here”. The result is “Baby Brings Bad News”.

One almighty Woodstock proportions jam later, the supergroup present the crunching single “22 Days”, and then everyone’s about knackered so they all sit around, sharing a spliff and having a kip on the cold, hard floor.

Dylan’s the first one up, and serenades everybody with “Friends”, at which point there are hugs aplenty along with the stoners’ obligatory “I love you man” comments. The Jagger leaps up and says “Hey! Let’s do a “Paint It Black” style tune, but with more Mars Bars and less Dark chocolate this time!”
The band, unsure of how this is going to work, or what he means, pick up their instruments, take up their places and belt out “Why Don’t You Do It For Me?”

Aah, I’ve had enough of such silliness. Let’s bump ourselves back to normality, shall we? This is quite an impressive debut that leaves little doubt in your mind (as you can see) where the band’s influences lie.
The remaining four tracks are impressive too, and continue in a similar vein to the rest of the album, though it has to be said that the band’s last single, “Shoot your Gun”, is still the standout track on it.

It’s weird really – the first time I played this album I was enormously disappointed with it. I’m glad I gave it another go, because the second time around, I could see its true value. 8/10

Tone E


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Interpol - Antics (Matador)

Interpol are part of the New York rock scene that have taken the UK by storm in the last couple of years. Their first album Turn On The Bright Lights was critically acclaimed, and it’s with this second offering that the band attempt to make an imprint on the public consciousness.

Interpol are perhaps not the most accessible of bands, and it takes a few listens to really get into this. However, it’s well worth it. Opener Next Exit is slow and uninspired, but really doesn’t represent the album at all. That task falls to following tracks Evil and NARC, and are the dark, brooding slices of rock that simply ooze class. Despite this, the album isn’t as dark as it’s predecessor, and tracks such as first single Slow Hands or C’mere could almost be classed as anthemic. The slower tracks, notably Not Even Jail, don’t have the same effect, but compliment the others well. This album is a well-crafted and well-executed slice of rock from Interpol, and deserves to do very well. 8/10

Joel Pearson

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The Thrills - Let’s Bottle Bohemia (Virgin)

The Thrills are obviously a band that appreciates irony, as the Irish five-piece are clearly the least thrilling band in the industry today. Their Californian-inspired guitar-pop has all been done before – not least by the band themselves on their first album So Much For The City.

The album starts well enough. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know is a bouncy, spirited opener, and single Whatever Happened To Corey Haim is also the kind of feelgood summer track that got the band noticed in the first place. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there. The next few tracks are nothing short of bland, and the sort of thing the Beach Boys would have rejected thirty years ago. Satuday Night is the aural equivalent of a shrug, and by Our Wasted Lives, it appears the band have simply given up trying to make exciting music. Found My Rosebud attempts to liven things up, but at this point it’s up against far too much. The Thrills are capable of making the odd good track, but when it comes to the albums, just buy Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys instead, which is what The Thrills probably should have done. 4/10

Joel Pearson

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Lenny Bruce - Let The Buyer Beware (Shout Factory)

Alright not exactly rock'n'roll, but this is rock'n'roll and only available currently on import, according to my Amazon. This 6 disc box-set is a collection of 119 recordings from Lenny Bruce’s popular performances and can be easily described as a comprehensive slab of this comics idealogy. The collection taps into material previously released as well as unreleased performances, making clear Bruce was way before his time.

The comic who was persecuted to his grave, is one of the most outrageous artists of all time, the comedian many modern comics strive to recreate. In among’st the material on offer here is a telephone recording of a message Lenny made to his label and one that offers an understanding that Bruce was fully aware of why he was being prosecuted for obscenity, but basically showing in his opinion the law to be an ass; remember “the audience are laughing at the ideas and not the words”, basically he was the scape goat and the authorites were “picking on one man to establish a principle”. Routines that would now be considered, yeah, ok racey, but would be thought just another outrageous performer in a whole world of outrageous performers.

This entire collection begs the question - had Lenny Bruce never happened, would the course of time have taken another direction? One thing is clear Lenny Bruce was an original, the closest to recreate his type of humour surely being the late Bill Hicks, but certainly a comedian who stands at the head of all who came after him.

To give you the techincal data of this that is to be revered; 7 1/2 hours, including 5 1/2 hours of previously unreleased club recordings, radio performances and excerpts from Lenny’s personal tapes. And comes with an 80 page book featuring photos, clippings, timeline, court transcripts and personal letters, with essays from friends and contemporaries.

His daughter Kitty Bruce and co-producer here, said of this collection; “For the die hard fan or the virgin listener, you are in for a treat...” and this is something that cannot be dismissed

But be warned, this won’t be a casual affair. 10/10

Nick James

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Ben Christophers - The Spaces In Between (Cooking Vinyl)

Ben’s third album is one that is declared as both “beautiful” and “seductive” and one Ben himself describes as “...the most upbeat and optimistic record I’ve ever written...”. If anything this album is one I found was deserving of volume and certainly not one that was in any way immediate. The songs present here are on the most part well crafted, opening with the mesmerising ‘Flowers Drink Upon The Ground’ and into the thoroughly chart credible ‘Good Day For The Hopeless’, a track that takes this idea to conclusion by the lyrics presented.

Continuing in high mood, ‘Everybody Stood To See Us’ is a beautiful song, only I felt falling at the fence through the addition of too many recording techniques and so onto the track ‘River Song’, one that made my speakers ‘flap’ and vibrate unnecessarily, not through the addition of excessive volume, but on this occasion for what was a recurrence of that I have described previously.

More songs suffered a similar fate until ‘A Race Between Me and Forever’, showing how it might nearly be done, but again a song I felt better production may’ve left this more open. In fact nearly all of this album is tainted from either someone's over exuberance or another's vitriol at the recording or mastering stage and one that if listening to on headphones could well leave you feeling just that little bit queasy.

An album that certainly showed a good starting point, but one that would certainly benefit from a re-examination of what exactly went into the ingredients. As it stands I tired of this album far too early. 4/10

Nick James

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Radio 4 - Stealing Of A Nation (City Slang)

I wouldn't necessarily say that this is the most life changing experience, but I have no doubt that this album will find itself in a multitude of award ceremonies in the coming year, yes it really is that good. It's like treading a path that is neither here, nor there, somewhere that lies between say 20 years ago, but using all the techniques available to a band today.

It's quite brash, unashammed and almost sleazy in places, like walking through Soho late at night, but as the group are in fact from New York, I don't know quite where this would be. Almost the album I could see Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon producing a number of years previously, it has all the programming that I might expect from Rhodes, with a slick vocal presentation, maybe a pumped up 'Arcadia'.

This album just doesn't stop, once the opening track and former single release 'Party Crashers' kicks in, it is clear that this ride is going to be a heady one. From the puck-reggae of Big Adio Dynamite, to the glammed-up content of an 80's night, it's just a shame that this band are not from the area of SW9 and then we could claim them for our very own. If anything this album does fall down slightly on the final track Coming Up Empty', a song that just doesn't sound in keeping with the rest of the album you will have heard by this point. A song that instead of dancing in silver lycra, slides onto the scene in a cowboy hat 2 sizes to small and chaps made of the finest linoleum, but this is a small critism and shouldn't detract from what you will encounter here. 9/10

Nick James

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Ed Harcourt - Strangers (Heavenly)

Ok, so Ed Harcourt is one musician that has been an artist who's never really been that far from mind in recent years; on posters advertising live performances, on the radio, interviews, mentioned in magazines, but who is this man who's fourth album I am now playing? Well classically trained, a former member of the band 'Snug' (umm, I remember these), and an artist truly worthy of the label 'musician'. This twelve track album includes many fine moments from the 'roar' that is the opener to 'A Storm Is Coming' and into what turns out an almost McCulloch influenced song (well he's the right age) and then onto the beautifully crafted 'Born In The Seventies', with lyrics that allow a peek inside the man's psyche, with what is heard as an incredibly personal account of a young mans passage through life.

But this man is carrying one hell of a load, from references made of him coming in the form of the late Nick Drake, Tom Waits, I'd even go as far as quoting
the much lamented Jeff Buckley, but with such a back catalogue, Ed has proved this is a load he is more than qualified in bearing. In fact it's not at all difficult to consider when you learn that this is an album born out of a new love, with lyrics that just can't escape this fact (someone's just gotten smitten), in fact Ed is quoted as saying that most of the songs present here came out of the "getting to know you stage" of a relationship and how many of us have been there? In fact this is something so obvious that you can at times feel that this is something that gets a little too wallowing, but it makes a change from albums that forever live in an eternal pit of despair. If anything this album has to be judged one of real hope and a fresh outlook on life, far from the endless misery we are usually feed. 9/10

Nick James

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American Music Club - Love Songs For Patriots (Cooking Vinyl)

From the first few bars of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ it’s obvious that the band is back in full force”, a passage I have taken from the PR that accompanied this album and one I felt described what you may encounter in a way that couldn’t be bettered. This is the eighth full-length album that AMC have produced and follows what seemed the end of the group following an amicable split in 1995.

My first encounter with the band was a radio played version of ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’, to which I was fortunate enough to find a copy of their then just released, lauded album ‘Mercury’. I’d like to say that this was then the start of a ‘fine romance’, as on reflection it should have been - with 5 independently released albums prior to this and ‘San Francisco’ that followed in 1994, but alas the then purchased album was to remain on my shelf in isolation. That was until now, when Cooking Vinyl have picked up the group, following a reformation in 2003 and released what I now hear and in fine form the group most certainly are.

It would be unfair to compare this album with the one they released some 11 years ago, maybe in terms of artwork, the cover is a wider variant of the one you may see on the sleeve of ‘Mercury’, but as far as the music goes, this album seems one that has ‘lived’ those years, has drunk the wine and played in more than its share of smoky bars. In short the album is a roughly cut gem stone, but one whose beauty lies just beneath the surface.

When listening to this album I heard a number of comparisons that could be made, from Tom Waits, to Nick Cave and Afghan Whigs and even U2, I think this may’ve been more the guitar I heard at times, so I suppose I should narrow this down to ‘The Edge’. Besides the music a collection of wonderful lines can be found in the passages of these songs, no lyric sheet, so I’m assuming that the artist wishes that we explore this album fully and it’s a past-time that you’ll find worthwhile.

American Music Club haven’t lost any of their appeal with the release of this album, it’s one that has grown up aside of me, but still it’s grown up. Their only other album I poses's hasn’t lost any of its initial charm, its just that I think that this new release has captured, for me, something else and has won my heart. What’s more I think it’s about time I examined the bands back catalogue. 9/10

Nick James

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Electric Soul II Compilation – Blended by the UnaBombers (Electric Chair/Pias)

A top-notch compilation masterfully blended by the Unabombers. This compilation is a sophisticated blend of soulful music covering a wide range of genres. A lot of the artists are not well known in mainstream circles but if your in to your modern soul then a lot of these tracks will be known to you. If you’re not in to your modern soul music, get in to it!!!! Tracks worthy of mention are ‘This Thing’ by D’Nell, ‘If’ by Ken Starr, Asheru and Talie Kweli, ‘Find a Way’ from Only Child feat Amp Fiddler and ‘Word Love’ by Rhianna. Generally speaking a more down-tempo experience this is a class act! Released 6th September. 9/10

Nic Caesar

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The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade)

We heard from this band what is not even yet a year ago, from Chicago this brother/sister outfit (well is incest actually that bad?) are again producing music that could quite easily be described as "Rough Trade's entire back catalogue at once", but this time is a little more themselves, or is it that "Rough Trade's entire back catalogue" is in fact what this band are aiming to record?

T: This has been hailed by the promotional team as "one of the most strangely magnificent albums of all time". It isn't. I mean, sure, it's strange - in that it sounds like Bow Wow Wow presenting an episode of Play School...

N: This album is fantastically child like from the onset, and understandably, coming from a brother/sister outfit, sounds like one sibling is striving to get noticed more than the other. Like their first, is beautifully strange, but does this make it a landmark?

T: Well. At least it's not boring. 6/10

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Misty's Big Adventure - The Solar Hi-fi System (SL Records)

Having recently toured with Brute Force - an early Apple Records artist who the band cite as a major influence - the band have enlisted the services of Bentley Rhytm Ace's Richard March and Pram's Matthew Eaton for their forthcoming debut album.

N: I see from your goggle-eyed gaze that you are somewhat bemused. Why is your lower lip pursed tight? Are you trying to stifle laughter?

T: No...um...er...Pff....no, no..um...pfff...HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

N: How to categorize this? Well, track three, "Night Time Better Than Daytime" does tend to echo shades of early Julian Cope, and I quote "Sweetness and Perfection", but otherwise , from an album that starts as an incredibly lo-fi affair, it doesn't in fact spoil this early refrain, and remains true.

T: The more I think about it, this really is "Frankenstein - the Musical" as written by They Might Be Giants, and directed by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

N: Your observation there is incredibly sharp! 7/10

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Etienne de Crecy - Super Discount II (PIAS)

Dance fans will be thinking themselves very lucky at the moment!!! Not only is the full album version of Super Discount II released on the 20th September but also there are four 10” limited edition vinyl samplers floating about at the moment!!!!

For those who are not aware, Super Discount I came out back in 1997 and was a significant step forward for most dance fans and led to the popularisation of Daft Punk, Stardust, Bob Sinclar and Cassius to name a few. So, it’s with great anticipation that I first listened to the album.

My overall feeling is very, very good, it plucks all the right strings, its full of energy and creativity but it also takes electronic music programming to another level. The quality of the composition and production on what is basically an instrumental album is great. Every track speaks to you sonically. It’s funky and tough in places and more soulful and gentle in others.

The most impressive thing for me is the number of classic hooks that I am sure will arise from this album. Literally from track one ‘Poisoned’ with its computerised synth hook to the second track ‘Fast Track’ with its guitar lick and then on to Track 3 ‘Grokster’ and on and on throughout the album!!!

Tracks worthy of mention are, well, basically all of them! At a push I would say that ‘Bit Torrent’ and ‘Soul Seek’ were heavier going tracks and may not appeal as widely.

Well, with collaborations with Alex Gopher, Philippe Zdar, DJ Medhi, Boom Bass and Julien Defaud, Etienne de Crecy unveils a wide range of very creative tracks. Etienne de Crecy has produced another classic for the dance genre as a whole. A must buy for most dance fans!!! 10/10

Nic Caesar

 
 

 

Twilight Singers - She Loves You (One Little Indian)

Following extensive tours of the US and Europe, Greg Dulli and co recorded this very intimate album, and are eagerly awaiting Nick and Tone's assessment...

T: This group is definitely proving its credentials in a big way. Starting off with "Feeling of Gaze" is like a music lesson that teaches us that, even if we incorporate just ONE chord in a composition, we can still create an extremely good pop song. "Too Tough to Die" just confirms the band's excellence really, its Dylan like musicianship and Strummer like vocals meld magically together to create a thing of beauty. Your turn to take over...

N: Greg Dulli is certainly on form, but that said, I'm afraid this album didn't contain quite the same jaw dropping factor of his first; however, I don't think Greg is capable of producing sub standard material. And anyway, the cat's certainly impressed, and "HyperBallad" is just that - a wonderfully delicious slice of downtrodden pop.

T: I personally thought it surpassed the first one, but still. The thing that matters is that we agree that it's a great album.

N: Alright, alright! What I MEANT to say was that I didn't think the album had the same immediacy as the last one. When Greg sang "I love stormy weather, so let's all play suicide", I was captivated. 9/10

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Blackfield - Blackfield (Snapper Music)

Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen are songwriters who share a love of the classic rock albums from the 60's and 70's.

T: It's interesting to read here that, at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995 (in front of 300,000 people), just moments after the Prime Minister (Rabin) had congratulated Geffen for performing his moving ballad, the leader was gunned down in cold blood just yards from where this half of Blackfield stood. I think some of the emotional turmoil shines through on this album and is all the better for it.

N: All I feel needs to be mentioned is that this is an extremely well executed album that screams "confidence", and comprises ten songs so perfectly crafted that they remind me of quality acts like Talk Talk, The Beloved and Stephen Duffy. I feel this is as close to perfection as you're going to find.

T: I don't know about that! I agree that it's a great album, and quite hauntingly beautiful. I love the fact that the excessive use of strings on the record are not overdone, despite what I just said. But whilst this is admittedly excellent, it's not without the odd blemish here and there when (very occasionally admittedly) it comes across a bit too "pomp rock ballad" like. Anyway, such minor differences aside, this really is an outstanding debut. 9/10

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Mousse T – Right About Now (Free2Airrecordings)

Yes Mousse T is back. Surprised? Well you shouldn’t be, despite previous hits like ‘Horny’ and ‘Sex Bomb’ having been around some years ago now. Mousse T is a renowned pop producer having worked with legends like Randy Crawford and Michael Jackson in the past.

This album is the best collection of pop tracks I’ve heard for a very long time. The tracks are slick and production is very tight and silky, as you would expect for a pop album. But what makes it so good is the creativity and variation. Mousse T works with a large number of artists on this album including ex-strangler Hugh Cornwall and UK soul star Roachford.

Three tracks stand out for me - ‘Is it cos I’m cool’ feat Emma Langford (which has just gone straight in a t number 9 in the singles charts), ‘Sex Has Gone’ feat Roachford and ‘Music makes Me Fly’ feat Amiel.

For a pop album its very good, but its still pop music at the end of the day! Make of that what you will, each to his own eh?!?!

8/10

Nic Caesar

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Bjork - Medulla (One Little Indian)

Following her foray with the 'Sugarcubes', Bjork became a solo musician, although at the time of her debut solo album I do belive that she still featured I think should be the term, instruments that added to the general feel of her music. Now comes her latest album and she appears to have stripped this right back, relying almost entirely on the human voice has her 'band' or 'orchestra'. Bjork, it appeared over time, became increasingly brave as far as her 'sound' went and now we've hit the peak of this process in an album that is in almost the domain of a studio only album, either that or a vast choral section will be needed to accompany her fully.

I don't hear a great deal of commercial content in this record, but that said I have to applaud the artist for producing such a vast and varied product that explores the medium of choral orchestration in such a manner. The only track that posesses a remote viability as far as a single release goes would have to be the track 'Who Is It', that rife with its rhythmical 'human' beats does carry the song along in a well paced manner. This album can be credited with being both incredibly stretching at times, whilst at others it can show a real sense of beauty, who else but Bjork. 7/10

Nick James

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Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies - Hurrah! Another Year... (Mini Album) (Fierce Panda)

Please Note: That this is an album, yes it only comprises 4-tracks, these run to a total playing time of 31 minutes and 28 seconds and the Gaurdian got their name wrong when they reviewed the band in their ‘Style’ supplement earlier this year (I quote; ‘Youth Movie Soundtrack Strategies’ - easy mistake to make, but still wrong!). ‘Hurrah! Another Year... or to give its full title - ‘Hurrah! Another Year. Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last: The Inexorable March Of Progress Will Lead Us All To Happiness’, bloody hell, good job lineage is of no consequence here.

Living in Oxford the four memebers of this band are; Al English (guitar & electronics), Andrew Mears (vocals and guitars), Stephen Hammond (bass) and Graeme Murray (drums and programming) and we are told “make music that is one part poetry, two parts mesmerising and several parts post-math-prog whatever rock imperfection”. Alright I’ll cut the crap and tell you that within the music I can certainly hear four guys who may have spent a little too long in the company of ‘dad’s’ collection of ‘Yes’ LP’s. It would certainly be fair to say that this is as far as you are going to get, moving in a forward motion extolling the virtues of the progressive movement, as we stand here in the early 21st century.

I don’t mean this to sound as sarcastic as has been pointed out to me, these four guys tackle their music with sensitivity, they are obviously musicians who are feeling the music they are producing and I love it! From the opening, rip-roaring ‘...Pitch...’, in all its 9 minute glory, through the absurdly titled ‘A Little Late He Staggered Through The Door And Into Her Eyes’, with lyrics I can’t quite make out, but thouroughly enjoyed the almost football chant present as the song is drawing to a close. It is here I realise that these songs on this ‘album’ are almost indistingusable as they run from one to the next, only defined by the fact you have been lying on the couch for far too long and it must be about time for a cup of tea, as the 3rd track ‘Recovery’ peeks into sight, its melodic pattern and mesermising melody haunting the space in which I sit. But perhaps its ‘...Spooks The Horse’, umm your guess is as good as mine and again a lyric sheet may be a welcome addition here.

The band can’t exactly be described as re-producing the prog-rock they may’ve heard in those vinyl grooves they no doubt wore out as they stared at the ceiling, but maybe to describe this as ‘prog-grunge’ wouldn’t be taking the piss. If only a small clique of fans derive the same passion as went into producing this, the work of ‘Youthmovie...’ may be seen to be done, brilliant. 9/10

Nick James

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Aberfeldy - Young Forever (Rough Trade)

This kicks off with “A Friend of Mine”, which is, entertainingly, a track that sounds like Flaming Lips performing Beach Boys tracks with assistance from Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy.

That’s followed by the very Crowded House like “Slow Me Down”, a Hollies meets the Byrds summer tune called “Love is an Arrow” and the almost Country and Western feel of “Tie One On”.

“Summer’s Gone” is a bit twee and weedy, to be frank, although the employment of fiddles on this track improves it somewhat. I’m not entirely sure what the band are trying to say on “Vegetarian Restaurant”, but it’s a bright and breezy tune with some beautiful harmonies reminiscent of The Thrills all the same.

“What You Do” sounds far too much like Savage Garden for it to retain too much credibility and title track “Young Forever” passed me by without ever making much of a dent in my memory.

“Surly Girl” continues in a similar vein, and then unfortunately on “Heliopolis By Night”, the band sound like Darren Hayes being backed by Kid Creole’s Coconuts!
I thought for a moment that “Something I must Tell You” was going to right the wrongs that had gone before, but alas, those Coconuts came back…

The band did, at least, have the decency to save the best until last – the sublime “Out of Love” but it’s not enough to save what could have been an outstanding album, which instead started off extremely promising, but trailed off halfway through, never to find its way back until the very last. 5/10

Tone E

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Ooops: One's that we missed

 

Razorlight – Up All Night (Vertigo)

Sadly, I have to confess that all this hype and adulation surrounding Razorlight is something of an enigma to me.

I mean, sure, they write good, catchy pop songs but personally I find that they lack the depth necessary to really be able to put themselves forward as future greats.

As the album begins with the piano led intro of “Leave Me Alone”, it’s impossible not to sing “they say the lights are always bright on Broadway” over the top, such is its familiarity. Problem is, this track is instantly forgettable once it ends.

Thankfully, the band has chosen to follow this with the most outstanding track on the whole CD – the fantastic former single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lies”, and it sounds just as bullock crunchingly good now as it did when I last heard it.

“Vice” starts promisingly enough, but evaporates into a fairly average tune that sounds worryingly like Then Jericho at times, and the album’s title track is a rather feeble attempt to sound like The Libertines.

“Which Way Is Out” is reminiscent of late seventies/early eighties band The Cars from the intro, until it wanders far too predictably into the same old “start quietly and get gradually noisier” routine that most of the other tracks here are guilty of.

A new version of Razorlight’s previous single, “Rip It Up” is next, and whilct musically this holds great appeal, lyrically it’s about as adept as DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby”. Maybe I’m missing the point somewhere.

“Dalston”, while nothing like it where the instrumentation is concerned, reminded me of The La’s “Doldrums”. It’s actually by far one of the strongest moments on the album, as is the admittedly glorious “Golden Touch”, which deservedly found its way to the nation’s Top Ten recently.

“Stumble and Fall” brings to light the band’s obvious influence with the illustrious Television, as do so many of the featured tracks here, although “Get It and Go” is more Jarvis Cocker than Tom Verlaine vocally, albeit with less humour.

What was I saying about lack of depth earlier on? Well, the self congratulating frontman Johnny Borrell has chewed my words out and spat them back in my face on “In the City”, which is a poetic stunner in the vain of Bob Dylan set to a Stiff Little Fingers shoutalong!

Actually, there’s every chance that this album could grow on me a lot, with the last couple of numbers being a pleasant toe tapper and a more thoughtful stab at a kind of ballad that rounds the whole thing off quite nicely.

The verdict? Well, I’m impressed but not THAT impressed. You’ll have to ask the editor if you want an “I’ve just wet my pants in excitement review”. 7/10

I don’t wet my pants anymore and anyway the pads sorted that problem out.

Tone E

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The Milk and Honey Band – The Secret Life of The Milk and Honey Band (Ape House)

Erstwhile XTC frontman and legendary songwriter Andy Partridge reckons this band is one of the most “truly wonderful” things he’s heard recently, and compares them to “The Moody Blues, or a more blissful Who”, and immediately signed them up to his own label.

Well, whilst I can (just about) see where he’s coming from with those references, the fact is that The Milk and Honey Band sound more like Aztec Camera, Talk Talk and Peter Coyle (ex-Lotus Eaters) all sharing the same relaxation tank.

There’s not really much point in me breaking it down into separate track reviews, because they are all extremely laid back, summery tunes that would, without any shadow of a doubt, all be top ten hits if they were covered by any of your current boy band crop (although it’s probably more Ronan Keating’s style than anyone else).

Oh yeah. I haven’t mentioned whether I like it or not yet, have I?

Well, it doesn’t EXCITE me, but then again it’s not supposed to. If, in fact, it sets out to do the opposite (i.e. chill you out completely), then it achieves its amount perfectly.

So yes. I do like it. 8/10

Tone E

web site

 
 

 

Blendcrafters – Vol 1 (Genuine)

High quality hip hop DJs/producers demonstrating that simple is best. A good hook and beats to match, oh, and a touch of talent, combined with years of DJing experience and you have a class act collection of jazzy breaks and soulful sounds.

The opening track ‘Melody’ is a neo-classic in the making. Simple sample hip hop that works because it flows and bounces so well it tunes you in. ‘Back Luck Blues’ again sounds great with its tough walking beats and strong, rusty vocals creating a deep south feel.

Then on to the more experimental instrumental work that is ‘The Shit’. Smokey new jazz breaks that resonate deep. The most bigged up of the tracks is an obvious reworking of the Lennon classic ‘Imagine’. The sax element needs some work in my opinion as it sounds like it was taken straight out of an ‘elevator music’ compilation. Well, I guess that’s just about the truth of it, but with bad ass breaks and beats!!!

Overall though the album does feel experimental and slightly loose in its production but that just adds to a sense of it being a musical playground, free from the over refined sounds of some hip hop material that is bouncing around at the moment. I Like!! 9/10

Nic Caesar

 
 

 

The Album Leaf – In a Safe Place (CitySlang)

Sonic neo-classical opera is one way to describe this album. But, if I take my head out of my arse for a second, I tell you something useful about it! This sort of music is the real driving force for electronica and song writing for my generation. It has all the complexities of classical compositions but also a basic, heart felt soulfulness that is inescapable.

The opening track ‘Windows’ is a weave of glassy reverbs and synths that gently melts in to the beats of ‘Thule’. Picture cruising around some coastal road in a convertible on a summers evening and you have the essence of the album right there.

‘TwentyTwoFourteen’ is a work of genius for me. It combines the most delicate of piano riffs with electronic drum machine beats and symphonic strings, awesome! ‘The Outer Banks’ is a typical track but illustrates the style well. It conjures images of classic landscapes and vast horizons combining emotion, pace and stature in every sound.

Other tracks show more clearly the skilful blend of electronica and traditional instrumental arrangements. ‘Another day’ is a spectacular blend of electronic twitches and beats and large soundscapes in piano and strings.

It’s the sort of album that you feel inclined to use big words to describe because other more simple words just don’t give it enough credit. So, I apologise if I have bored you to death but believe me when I tell you that this album, most certainly, wont!! 8/10

Nic Caesar

 
 

 

Proud Mary – Love & Light (Redemption)

A difficult album for me to review as it doesn’t sit well with anything I tend to listen too. ‘Love to Love you’ is by far the most appealing track with uplifting soulful guitar chords and funky breaks, it’s a great all rounder.

‘Mexico’ is another track that grabs your attention. The overall feel is hot, sweaty and Latin but with some ‘Country’ thrown in to boot!(Yeee Haaw!)

Throughout the vocals of Greg Griffin are memorable and distinctive and all of the tracks sound good. The let down is that further in to the album it becomes a bit repetitive, which is fine if you really love the sound but can grate a bit if you’re not 100% committed. 7/10

Nic Caesar

 
 

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