Album Reviews: October 2002

 

JJ72 - I To Sky (Lakota)

One of our featured interviews this month, JJ72 return with an altogether more optimistic take on life, viewing the world through a pair of divine spectacles this time around.

T: This is the final frame of the 1985 World Snooker final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. It's the 1966 World Cup final. It's Darth Vader telling Luke he is his father, and it's being pulled up by the bungee rope a split second before you crack your head open on the concrete. Not many things in music make me sit on the edge of my seat with an intensity as extreme as several of those events would, but JJ72 have created a monster here, and every time I confront the beast it swallows me up whole and spits me out 45 minutes later. And you know what? I get one hell of a rush every time.

N: "Creating a beast" is certainly the phrase in essence here. That such a young band can have produced two albums of such weight so early on in their career is remarkable. But that "difficult" second album is one of such beauty, it's truly amazing.

T: And not only on the prettier tracks am I blown away. The album's pinnacle for me, is the bitter and venomously spat "Serpent Sky" - no pun intended - that is akin to being hit by a 20 foot truck and enjoying it!

N: And with two such heavyweight names as Flood and Alan Moulder in the production quarter, this album will surely not fail to score. Need we say more? 10/10

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Bjork - Greatest Hits (One Little Indian)

The question the accompanying press literature doesn't answer is "Why?" - a fifteen track retrospective of the premier Icelandic celebrity, beside that of Magnus Magnusson of course, documents a solo career that has brought, in four albums over nine years, and has seen this diminuitive artist soak up influences and morph them into a totally unique form. How far from the indie/alternative strings of the Sugarcubes could this get? Well it's somewhat like going to the cinema in 1953, watching a flat, lifeless presentation one week, then returning a week later and being issued at the door with a pair of 3D specs, and suddenly finding yourself in an embrace with Lana Turner as you sit munching popcorn of the third row. Bjork is no longer just a singer, but an artist who has gained the adoration of her contemporaries across the musical spectrum, from Missy Elliott to Elton John. One who has explored the colliding of hip hop with classical music, but she is surely an artist you either love or hate. As the lady herself explains of her career - "In this life, I want to do so many different things, and I have so little time". What do our panel make of this, and can we offer any idea of what the future will hold?

T: To totally contradict the introduction that you have carefully and thoughtfully compiled, I neither love nor hate the lady in question. She is obviously extremely talented, and the chances are that I will enjoy a few tracks at a time tremendously, but the overriding factor with Bjork is that, listening to more than a handful of songs featuring her voice, I tend to end up with a rather nasty migraine. That said, this is an ultimately more commercial album, being a singles collection, so the results of such fine pieces of music as "Venus As A Boy" are somewhat less likely to have me reaching for the Anadin.

N: I might have tended to agree with you, having listened to previous full length releases, but here I was completely converted. A compilation that was borne out of a "web vote" from fans, and one I feel works beautifully, representing those facets I've talked of, but maybe this is best served as mood music. Released simultaneously with what is described as a "Family tree" project, a release that compliments that of the Greatest Hits, and in essence is a six CD box set exploring those facets further, which includes two "strings" discs comprising classical arrangements of her songs played by the Brodsky Quartet. A welcome addition is a sixteen page lyric book, featuring a map guiding purchases through the family tree collection.

T: Except that the lyrics all say "Waaagh, wheeee, Ooobedoobee Wooo....shhh".

N: Very droll my friend, but what of the future? A burger van on the Epping Road, answers please on a postcard to... 8/10

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The Libertines - Up The Bracket (Rough Trade)

Produced by legendary Clash member Mick Jones, The Libertines' debut album promises much after a sell out UK tour with Supergrass and two storming top 40 singles "I Get Along" and "Up The Bracket". Let's hope they're gonna fulfil that promise.

T: An album that seems to flow effortlessly between tracks with an intoxicating vigour. I find myself drawn in totally to this band's uptempo assault on my eardrums, and, whilst I can see the former Clash man's inspiration shining through like a silver Trojan, somehow The Libertines manage to smell as fresh as a daisy. Want a feelgood album to make your darkest hours brighter? Then maybe this is for you.

N: Refreshingly raw in its presentation, although this is not the first of a wave engulfing our musical palate recently. It is certainly a welcome addition, and is worthy of starting a trend in its own right. Are these guys the musical assassins that could put paid to the "hostile" takeover currently being forced upon us by the likes of Simon Cowell and his ilk?

T: If so, let's hope Will and Gareth are first on their hitlist. 9/10

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Roots Manuva - Badmeaningood (Whoa Music / Ultimate Dilemma)

Having been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for his previous album "Run Come Save Me", Mr Manuva returns with a selection of hip hop classics and sprinklings of eighties ska amongst many of the golden nuggets of "Badmeaningood".

N: The man himself offers up vocals on the introduction here - sounds like someone's plucking his pubic region with the studio mike left open - but seriously I find this extremely entertaining. He's certainly got the gift, and by the sounds of it, the record collection to go with it.

T: I'm not denying that Roots Manuva has talent, but quite how much you need to put together an album of tracks by other artists I'm not entirely sure, even if you HAVE added a hip hop drum loop over the top. I mean, if I put together all MY favourite songs and recorded myself vomiting as the backdrop, would this then be regarded as my own album? I think this sort of thing is good for opening the eyes of punters previously oblivious to the quality tunes herein, such as NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" or Eric B and Rakim's "Follow The Leader" but how much water this holds where genuine songwriting ability is concerned is minimal as far as I am concerned.

N: I spoke to the man a few years ago, allowed little preparation and insight, and he scared me to death. Given this, it comes across to me that he's just a pussycat in top hat and tails, but fair point, compilation is not original material, whether or not you're at the decks. However, has the media today not made a star out of "Uncle Frank" and his Christmas disco? 7/10

 
 

 

Frank Black and the Catholics - Devil's Workshop (Cooking Vinyl)

We've already done this, but maybe it's the album's title that put the hex on our review and consigned it to the Twilight Zone. Let's have another go...

T: Knowing and loving all the Pixies' albums and a vast quantity of Black's solo stuff, I am also aware of the huge respect the man holds for the great Neil Young. Possibly more than on any other previous release, this influence shines through in abundance here. Frank and the Catholics manage to capture all the moods you need to encompass your day in 35 minutes flat.

N: This and "Black Letter Days" could've been a double album, but I can see why it wasn't. Two very distinct albums with a fine set of acoustics, and if this doesn't make a fan of even the most heathen, Lucifer will not have done his job. 9/10

 
 

 

Supergrass - Life On Other Planets (Parlophone)

A difficult second album, did we just say? Pfff...small fry when you're Supergrass and are releasing your "tricky fourth".

T: One of the most endearing qualities of Supergrass is that they never seem to grow up, having pretty much mutated into caricatures of themselves over the last few years. The music hasn't changed a great deal either, but to quote the old adage of "If it ain't broke...", well not only has it not "broke", it's still in perfect working order on this evidence.

N: There are few like Supergrass, always original in their compositions, they may take influence, but make the sounds their own. A heavy weight of the 'alternative scene', the success they deserve is 'Supergrass'.

T: I suspect Mr.Coombes has been taking a frequent dose of the electric warrior Marc Bolan himself of late, going on the evidence herein. All this only adds to the appeal of the album. 9/10

 
 

 

Peter Coyle - The Mood Machine (Imaginetree)

One of the most recent stars we interviewed, Peter Coyle was part of the Lotus Eaters, has written many tracks for bands such as Cast, and remains largely influential in the music business.

T: I came home with a stinking flu a couple of weeks back, felt like a bag of shite, and this was lying on the doormat for me, having been sent it from Mr Coyle himself. Having listened to the whole album immediately, it had something of a calming effect on me with it's beautifully chilled out feel, and wonderfully acoustic arrangements. A testament to the fact that you don't have to be called Coldplay to make music that moves you deep in your heart.

N: Possessing the scent of eighties pop, Peter's current release is a slow moving look at the scenery of yesterday. Like a bus ride through springtime country roads, this has all the time in the world. 9/10

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McAlmont & Butler - Bring It Back (Chrysalis)

Bernard Butler has moved on quite a bit since his split from Suede, and whilst his former bandmates have perhaps fallen away from public demand slightly, McAlmont and Butler continue to achieve Singles Of The Week and still court favour in the contemporary music press. Including this one?

N: Commencing with the Shaft-esque "Theme From", M&B show they have a new string to their bow in an album of what will surely be remembered as contemporary classics. Radio 2 playtime? and today, this shouldn't be considered a put down.

T: Admittedly so, but it always bothers me a little when bands take to appearing on "Open House with Gloria Hunniford" in order to promote their releases. That's the problem - it's more than listenable, with a couple of excellent tracks at least, but any aspect of "cool" has been well and truly been destroyed now.

N: Bernard Butler is a mighty axeman, and would have surely cut swathes through our Gloria in his show of might and strength, so any talk of "lack of cool" will surely have been flattened. After all, they've gotta make a living...and as raping and pillaging is no longer the considered route, M&B will have done the same in the metaphorical way. 7/10

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The Crescent - The Crescent (Virgin)

Finally an album from "the mighty Crescent", a statement no doubt lost on some of you, but the Crescent have released some fine singles to precede this debut album. So the proverbial "dogs bollocks" or just another "greatest hits"?

T: I'd say more a case of Rover's gonads than just a case of using the album as a vehicle to promote some great singles. They don't half sound like the Small Faces at times though.

N: Songs that are not in any way sweaty and out of condition, the group have obviously then given them a good licking before presenting them for world scrutiny. The band obviously have the right credentials; let's take it to the top guys. 8/10

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Econoline - Music Is Stupid (Infur)

London's finest? the group with the conflicting comparisons? Or rocks' saviours? Well we've listened to their single this month, how are we going to take to 40 minutes of pleasure or pain?

T: They actually probably sound more like The Junket than anybody else they've been compared to! I really want to like this band, and I will admit they are growing on me, albeit in a minimal way, but I have to say that I prefer the real McCoy. That's not to say other more complimentary hacks' takes on the band are without substance - I think they have a lot to offer - but as yet, I remain unmoved.

N: I don't see any of those comparisons "made" by our national press. If I could be allowed the indulgence of making a few of my own, these are an indie band atthe start of an existence that could go either way - meteoric rise or back to the counter. They still have some distance to cover. 5/10

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Suede - A New Morning (Sony Music)

By the title of this, their fifth full length release, are they suggesting a "tap-esque" rebirth or just the fact that they woke up this morning? Well I hope it was a good day and not a rather grey, overcast one. Shall we find out?

N: I think Brett now sounds like a tired once-rock-star trying to ascert a former glory. I'm sorry to say this of an energy that was once a shining light standing proud atop indie's centre stage, but I regret that I hear little that might suggest otherwise.

T: But surely it's better to make a different album five times than just try to remake the past. To his credit, Brett's poetic lyricism still stands firm, and nobody is reaching dramatically for the off button. To be fair to what you said though, this album does give the worrying impression that Roger Whittaker is about to drop in for a swift half, and is far from the band's best outing. "Dog Man star" was a classic album. This isn't. 5/10

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Camper Van Beethoven - Cigarettes and Carrot Juice : The Santa Cruz years (Cooking Vinyl)

Formed in 1983 in Redlands CA, this band were invited to play alongside such west coast punk heavyweights as the Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers and Minutemen amongst others during the years, producing three independent albums along the way, and two further major label releases before the band's dissolution in 1990. This five album box set is a summation of their history.

N: Influential in many ways, this group from mid-eighties music waste suggest an eclectic mood that in all honesty was only ever going to become no more than an influence to anoraks and cowboys. But with a name like CVB, you are certainly not going to be forgotten.

T: It's like a marriage between Fairport Convention and Pete Shelley, as overseen by the Reverend Kevin Rowland and Father Suggs. Or maybe it's just a bunch of five lads out on the piss and having a bloody great time. Whatever, the fun element is the overriding factor of this attractive addition to any serious music buff's collection. 7/10

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Jesse Malin - The Fine Art Of Self Destruction (One Little Indian)

He's a native new Yorker (hang on, there's a song in there somewhere), and the album's been produced by Ryan Adams (who recently threw a fan out of a concert for requesting "Summer of 69"). Apparently, Malin is a "streetwise storyteller" so Atomicduster are about to listen, Jackanory style...

T: Another Neil Young fan, do you think? Or do you think he's a student of the Van Morrison campus?

N: Well, "You say you want a revolution", the opening line here, suggests that he certainly listens to Lennon and Mccartney, but this is most definitely Stateside rock.

T: You're not kidding. Quite an eighties feel too, in a Springsteen kind of way. The only odd thing that I can't get out of my mind is that he sounds like his cheeks are sagging whilst he sings. Maybe he eats too quickly.

N: Astbury Park to Brooklyn, Jesse Malin has certainly got this "art" down to a tee. 6/10

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The Church - Parallel Universe (Cooking Vinyl)

Most people will have heard of this Antipodean band. Press them still further and they may just be able to blurt the name of their most famous single "Under The Milky Way", but how many of them know that the group have released over a dozen albums? I certainly didn't, but then I have the benefit of a press release.

N: INXS, U2 or countless others to boot, The Church produced fine bred rock who count among their numbers the fine vocal talents of bassist Steve Kilbey, the epicentre of their sound, but with a group such as this, this could well be contested.

T: A band that was well ahead of its time, The Church continue to make music that THEY want to make, and sound all the better for it. 8/10

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Various Artists - We Are Skint (Skint)

A compilation of "That was then" and "This is now" from the innovative alternative dance label from Brighton...

T: You can't go far wrong with the quality of artists featured herein. The early hits that started it all, such as Bentley Rhythm Ace's "Bentley's Gonna Sort You Out" and Lo-fidelity All Stars most prestigious moment, "Battleflag" featuring Pigeonhed, right through to current and future releases like Freq Nasty's "Dog Choon" and Midfield General's disturbingly titled "Noel's House Party", you would be hard pressed to find a better compiled album to define a label's history quite so comprehensively.

N: Liverpool to Manchester, Oxford to Brighton, the continually changing capital of UK music now lands at the heart of Tory conferencing as Skint offer up a presentation of youth culture featuring the crown prince and adoptive sun himself, Mr Slim.

T: If you have been living on Jupiter for the last 5 years, you should invest in this album now. If you know all the tracks on it, you may as well buy it anyway. Also released at the same time is a DVD of "We Are Skint - The Videos". 9/10

 
 


Ron Sexsmith - Cobblestone Runway (Parlophone)

This is Ron Sexsmith's sixth full length release and features Chris Martin at one point on guest vocals. What are we going to make of this easy listening album?

T: This is what Morrissey, Elvis Presley, Paul Young and Harry Connick Jr would sound like if they were melted down individually and then all welded together. It excites me as much as cabbage.

N: Does the fact that he's worked with Chris here come as a surprise?

T: I can't think of a better way to get the Sexsmith wagon rolling, can you? If you can't do it on your own, employ the efforts of a well respected and intelligent songwriter from a worldwide phenomenon. I would, if I could. He just seems to be trying to actually BE Coldplay at times, and not necessarily succeeding.

N: I'm a believer that everything has its time and place. This is not in any way a bad album, we just haven't arrived yet. 4/10

 


Alabama 3 - Power In The Blood (One Little Indian)

Housing 14 original tracks and a cover of Springsteen's "Badlands", Alabama 3 have managed to entice a host of stars into cameo roles on their new album. Names such as Keith Allen, BJ Cole and Irvine Welsh all add their assistance to a politically charged long player, possibly inspired by Jake Black's schooling in Marxism.

T: I can't help having the underlying feeling that this group have been around for aeons, and, judging by their pictures on the sleeve, I can see why. Their excessive drug use has obviously told on them somewhat!

N: I always remember this band as quite a quirky mixture of Deep South and quirky beats, culminating in a dance vibe not a million miles from that of Barry Adamson.

T: Pleasant in a chugging along kind of way. 6/10

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Radio 4 - Gotham (City Slang)

Not much more to say about this band than we already said in our single write up this month, so join us for a cup of tea, listen and enjoy.

N: Less of the Strummer/Jones tendencies here as a whole, and more of an original melding of influences from late seventies punk, but hey, who am I kidding? Jones could well have taken this route had he not met Don Letts, right down to the lyrics.

T: Latter day Jam, perhaps a smattering of New Wave here and there, and a worthy reminder of the way we used to be. Back in the days when I had a flat top haircut and a pair of bright white trainers. God, do i really WANT to be reminded? Still, I like the cut of their jib. 8/10

 


Gusgus - Attention (Underwater)

A four piece from Iceland comprising members called Earth, President Bongo, Buckmaster and Biggi Veira, Gusgus return with their fourth album. So what do Tonga E and Nicholonias Jackmaster make of it all?

T: I thought that first track was going to go into "Da Da Da" for one worrying moment. Then again, Elastica made it work, so why not?

N: With a good grasp of their electronics, not my favourite Gusgus slice of pie, but certainly more commercially viable, I could concede. Pacier than I remember.

T: Doesn't really tickle my tastebuds I'm afraid. If I was to let myself get drawn into this I'd feel like I should become a drug trafficker and form my own sleazy pimping agency.

N: Do you not feel that the electronics tend to detract from any lyrical content here though? Perhaps you've just answered that though...pass the pipe. 5/10

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Total Science - Toatal Science no.3 (C.I.A.)

Audioworks 3 is the latest release from drum and bass/beats and breaks duo ‘Total Science’ and follows on from their well received album entitled Audioworks 1. ‘Total Science’ AKA Jason Greenhalgh and Paul Smith are not new to the scene and have been producing since 1988 as well as running their own labels C.I.A, Skindeep and Advance.

On this single cd album ‘Total Science’ starts us off with the infamous Taxman which offers a generous helping of notoriously dark drum and bass. Incorporating frantic percussive loops, (beating at about 170-180bpm) edgy vocal samples and hellish bass lines (that could make young children cry) Taxman is the perfect introduction to this album which aims to force listeners into submission! This aggressive attitude continues with the intelligent use of samples and impressive drum programming and sequencing which can be identified in tracks like Zanzibar, Kingpin and Ironside resulting in a very intense vibe.

Unfortunately we are only human therefore maintaining this intensity for over an hour would undoubtedly result in cardiac arrest. So in sight of this ‘Total Science’ provides examples of the crusier and more mellow side of their production and do this by introducing the sounds of chilled beats towards the end of the album. Just Kisses uses infectious ethnic percussion with somber filtered organ chords and soft strings to produce a ‘Café Del Mar’ like journey that extends through to tracks like Hot Tub and Sundryed resulting in a very chilled out mood. Just as you slowly drift away picturing yourself on the beach in Spain sipping a Pina Colada, ‘Total Science’ reminds you what you are there for in the first place and that is dark vibey drum and bass and with the addition of 30 Twelve providing speedy percussion and driving bass lines you can’t help but remember.

Audioworks 3 is an excellent reflection of the drum and bass genre and it also provides food for thought for the chilled beats genre. The production work on this album is awesome and reflects the abundance of experience and creativity the ‘Total Science’ duo posses. This album is ideal for all drum and bass enthusiasts and lovers of chilled out background mood music, which is a genre that has become incredibly fashionable. Audio that works!!!
8/10

Jhonus

 


Superchumbo - Leadhead, the sound of... (Loaded)

US tribal house producer/DJ Tom Stephan AKA Superchumbo cut his teeth listening to the likes of Nitzer Ebb and Depeche Mode, but that was a long time ago and he has come a long way since then. Tom’s list of achievements include running and DJ’ing his own night at Turnmills and Crash nightclubs, producing and releasing The Revolution which reached Ibiza club anthem status back in 2001 and currently hosting his own radio show on Kiss 100 FM airing every Wednesday night. Tom’s talents as a DJ are well received in the UK and the US, but his more than competent efforts at remixing Missy Elliot’s Get Your Freak On has earnt him world recognition. LeadHead! is the follow up release from his debut album Soundworx Session 2 and is a mixed collection of Tom’s latest remixes and original tunes.

Superchumbo introduces us to the super sleazy side of Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head. The Todo Mamado remix combines sliding distorted bass lines and infectious tribal house percussion to fuse together an electric opener that gets your hips shaking and the night started. The mix maintains a very Latin percussive sound relying on a quantized rhythm, impulsive build ups and breakdowns and diva vocals and vocal samples which are evident in Superchumbo’s own Irresistible. Unfortunately the mix loses this intensity and grows a little stagnant and is only resurrected with the introduction of Danny Tenaglia’s Headhunter. Dominated by heavily compressed tribal percussion, over processed speech vocals and an acid monosynth bass line the mix peaks with uplifting urgency that incorporates a furious mix of Darude’s Sandstorm and Love Tattoo’s Drop Some Drums to generate a more aggressive edge and is undoubtedly the highlight of the entire mix.

Superchumbo creates an atmospheric mood towards the end of the set using the familiar sounds of synth stabs and diva vocals in the Volta Vocal mix of The Revolution and the soothing choir samples used in David James’ (always) A Permanent State. At this stage the driving tribal house beat which has been the main feature of the mix appears to lose it’s authority as it gets overpowered by triggered vocal samples and synth sweeps in Rambo’s Turn It Up which consequently tends to make the mix sound exhausted and lifeless.

Leadhead! Is a predictable journey through US influenced tribal house kept interesting with the use of creative remixes of well known successful tunes. At times the mix can be repetitive and uninteresting but does manages to redeem itself just in time. More importantly Leadhead! Is an exhibition of the talents and experience of Tom Stephan who is more then just a competent DJ. Tom is as strong at producing as he is on the decks and manages to capture the sound and vibe of tribal house in both his original tunes and his remixes featured on this album. Man of many talents!!! 7/10

Jhonus

 

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