Spotlight issue 22

The Labors Of Sisyphus - A Recurring Theme Of Failure

How many times is it that when something goes wrong many of us would look to the sky and ask that question "why me?" Travis Gerke has taken his despair and articulated this into an album; "A Recurring Theme Of Failure".

An artist hailing from Rome, New Georgia first learnt 'the ropes' in punk-pop band "Sloppy Meateaters" and has since added a 'nation spanning tour', performances on the USA network and the 'wared tour' to his musical resume. But with a biography that describes this composision as possessing 'vain hope for wishes come true', 'storybook relationships', 'sunny day's and happy endings', just how true to his word is Travis Gerke?

T: With romantic music that sometimes bears a passing resemblance to recent Idlewild output, Gerke manages to tug gently at your heart strings whilst conscienciously embracing the listener into his despair. I get an overwhelming feeling of "We're all in this together, but hey, everything's going to be alright" from this album. At times it reminds me of the more acoustic tracks recorded by The Wonder Stuff, such as "Sing The Absurd" or "Mission Drive" and it flows effortlessly, never gets boring and I would say it's probably the best album we have ever been sent by an unsigned artist. Would you agree?

N: I'm impressed with Travis's vocal approach, the songwriting, production - are we SURE this guy's not yet signed? But certainly the whole presentation does contain the quality of a group like Miles Hunt and co, surely a standard that is ultimately saleable in this climate. But to return to the songwriting - quite stunning. 10/10



Richard McGraw - Her Sacred Status, My Militant Needs (Non-Utopian Records)

Reading some of these biographies can tend to remind you of those early curriculum vitae you'd prepare upon leaving education and dipping your toe into the water of employment. Well Richard's is a class act, I now know that he took the 'Sacrement of Confirmation', studied toward a batchelors degree of philosophy, has some mild Zen training and is educated in the italian language, not to mention is 'safe' in the use of a hand gun! Well now I feel close to this artist and am all set to post the invite to Christmas lunch, I find myself asking the question, "what about his music?" Well 'Her Sacred Status, My Militant Needs' is apparently a "detailed portrait of man's struggle of love and loss" and a "catchy critique of the modern Christian" exploring the "teenage tendencies", but Richard on which side of the bed do you lie, the left or the right? Let us find out:

N: Do we see any of Richard's former experience herein? Well in the opening number, the lyric "Still waiting for renewal in the world, hoping that you'd return as these Christian girls burn, and they burn, and they burn..." I can certainly vouch that a Catholic education has borne the bitterness and experience of a scholar of these words.

T: Sounding rather like cult late sixties show tunes, I would be surprised if Richard hasn't spent a fair while seducing his ears with the sounds of Jose Feliciano or Love's classic "Forever Changes" album. The nation's airwaves are sadly deficient of this kind of music nowadays and I for one am ready to welcome it back.

N: Having already vouched for Richard's songwriting credentials in the depth of feeling of what is presented here, we would have to continue and comment on his musical arrangement. His use on the whole of the acoustic guitar with which to give foundation to his lyrics, but at the same time accordion, violin and viola add to the subtlety of which we speak. Perhaps Jeff Buckley may have been a mentor - one of many I'm sure. 8/10



David and the Citizens - I've Been Floating Upstream E.P.

"Rememeber ...Bright Eyes is not just an old film..." came the reply as this groups P.R. answered my quip regarding childhood memories of the celluloid tearjerker! Well there has to be a connection there somewhere, although mybe not of the Art Garfunkel variety, more from the pages of the NME variety I would hazard a guess.

Ok so to David and his Citizens; blonde hair blue eyes? That's just preconceptions, but this band do hail from Malmo, Sweden - home of bubbling fjords and Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and the brunette that always looked a bit of a goer! Well that is where any coparison should stop as this group number five and would appear to have a leaning to music of the rockier variety than 'pop-idol', comparisons of the group coming in the shape of Beck, Bob Dyaln, Guided By Voices and I knew they'd crop up soon, Bright Eyes. All this and as yet we've not even sampled the sauna, pour some more water on the coals Mr E:

N: I find myself wanting to cry "Yeehah"! as this album starts.

T: How come all the unsigned artists this month seem to be better than the majority of the signed ones? This has a classic mid-eighties Violent Femmes feel to it and the excitement that goes hand in hand with Gano and co is here in abundance.

N: You may well have hit the nail on the head there. It's a conspiracy, failing to allow audiences access to the talents of these artists, and after all, it would mean a wholesale change in the fabric of popular music today.

T: I wouldn't have a problem with that.

N: This Western European music presentation of the likes of Deus and their North Atlantic cousins has so much life, and offers so much more than your average pap - I mean, mouth organ! These guys have really thought about how they present themselves. 8/10



The People Involved - The People Involved

Writen and recorded in apparently just a few months - probably the best way, no countless productions, just the vigour of an early idea committed to what would once have been vinyl, but now mere noughts and ones. So a band form initially in Portland, Oregon, before moving (in part) to the earth moving excesses of Los Angeles to further their carears as hell raisers; ethereal globe trotters who by now should be sharing tales with St. Michael if their love of the Absinthe-nectar had anything to do with it! Oh well guys, keep the naked flame subdued as we allow the air to ignite as we press play...

N: Goth rock in its presentation, circa early nineties is well aranged, engineered and produced, again leaving the question - "Are we sure these guys are not yet signed?" I'm sure it can't be long. "Hardwires" is perhaps not the best opening track; its successor "Cantillever"might have been a better choice, but also, this screams "Debut Single"!

T: Some well produced tunes, thoroughly listenable and enjoyable. This is a very good album, leaving with you the impression that this band has the potential to go all the way and next time make a classic one. Shades of The Cult and, as you say, early nineties Goth Rock, The People Involved here have done a sterling job.

N: That would explain it then - the band's bassist and producer, Clark Stiles, is the owner of one of the more prolific studios in Portland. With ammunition like that in the band, surely you've gotta go far. 8/10



Unreal - Unreal

"Hi Nick...As I said in the last mail it took us a while to translate and organise all our documents from German to English...but now that we've made it we've sent you the CD..." Thanks guys, 10 out of 10 for effort, we'll try to give you our unbiased views.

Described as a project and one who has initially 'existed' since 1998, Unreal produce trip-hop in the form of beats and loops. A three piece, the project was complted when Helmut and Alexander finally achieved their goal in locating a suitable voice with which to supplement their sound in the form of Bibi Tischer. Alex Rizzi brings with him song writing and guitar experience, whereas Helmut, an experienced DJ offers up the know-how and "Deep impact" on production. Sounds exciting, but how does it sound?

T: Kicking off with a track that wouldn't be out of place on Air's "Moon Safari" album is always a good way to win me over, being one of my favourite all time records...

N: "For The Wounded" - this opening number is beautiful, but nothing like I expected. Bears all the hallmarks of our friend, musician and writer - Naim Cortazzi. Liquid and smooth - that's Bibi.

T: Does this remind you of Massive Attack in places? Or Sophie B Hawkins? Both those artists have sprung to the forefront of my mind whilst we feast our eardrums on this.

N: Well MA - that'll be the trip-hop, and the latter, well that hadn't immediately sprung to mind, but I can see where you're coming from. Now, did YOU misspend your youth catching the sights and sounds of "Knight Rider"?

T: No, I was too busy trying to get various girls to get their "Kit" off...

N: Ha ha. Very clever. But, talking on a critical level, I would have to note that Bibi doesn't have exactly the strongest voice, and might need a little more experience here.

T: Personally i think it's actually testament to the power of the girl's vocals that she needs so little effect putting on them. This is another top album. 7/10



Mantra - Shake Me Down/Forget To Breathe

Mantra is a Buckinghamshire based duo who have garnered a huge following throughout the South-East of England and have started to feature heavily on local radio. Influenced by legendary artists such as The Beatles, Queen and Jimi Hendrix, the band are multi-talented instrumentally, blessed with a gift for songwriting and even throw a funked up cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" into their live performances in another illustration of their diversity. This is our take on the band's new double A-sided single:

T: I'm sure this is a great single to dance to at the artist's gigs, or to "Shake down" to, but sat next to a ghetto blaster it perhaps lacks the necessary impact, the second track "Forget To Breathe" rescuing the record from the criticism I was about to inflict on it. The latter is heavy on sentiment, is obviously a well written tune, but could rather benefit from some better production or direction. It has the makings of a classic but it needs a makeover.

N: I can't disagree. Perhaps a superb live experience, but they may have missed the boat commercially - their sound telling of mid-eighties vibe in the opening track. This, in my opinion, is totally wasted here in its positioning (perhaps even its being). Head immediately to the more subtle presentation of "Forget To Breathe", perhaps a point the band may benefit from, a label to tell them what works and what doesn't.

T: In summary, one excellent track in need of better production, and one track that is too easily forgotten. 5/10



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