Empirical: Elements Of Truth

The wonderful Naim label releases some great artists, Phantom Limb and Stuart McCallum to name but two. They have a diverse and eclectic roster of artists with Empirical being one of their most experimental. Empirical play jazz. Some of it is improvisational, some structured, some of it uncomfortable and some inspirational.

There is nothing traditional here as the guys take their cue from the likes of Charlie Parker and Courtney Pine. Indeed, their first album was produced by Pine.
I'll be the first to admit that I like my jazz more Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke than the musings of Dizzy Gillespie and co, so at time I did find this record hard work. There is no doubting the skill that these guys possess, both as musicians and composers but the unstructured nature of the music was hard to listen to. I know that this is meant to be that way and as a musician myself I have great admiration for the dexterity and skill required to make such music but... I just can't relate to it.

It would be unfair for me to review this record as I just can't be objective about it. I simply don't get it.


no rating given

~ Monday, 21 November 2011

Spirits Of The Dead: The Good God Pan

Norwegian Psych rockers Spirits Of The Dead have adopted a different take on their sound for this their second album. The folksy edge is still there but it has been blended with jazz to take it into territory inhabited by Santana, Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth and King Crimson.

This mini album opens with the dream like Mighty Mountain, all chiming guitars and breathy vocals before morphing into a 60's inspired prog beast. The wonderful Leaves Of Last Year's Fall inevitably draws comparison with Dave Brubeck's classic Take Five as it uses the same 5/4 time signature. This is a fantastic jazz psych crossover with a great guitar sound from Ole Ostedal and the manic drumming of Geir Thorstensen.

Pure As The Lotus, as strange as it may sound, reminds me of Ronnie James Dio era Black Sabbath where the band experimented with synths and softened their metal sound with folk influences brought to the band by Dio. The records title track is a magical and ethereal piece of folk with front man Ragnar Vikse's breathy vocals cutting through the harmonies and is the stand out on an album that delivers throughout. Casting The Runes organ driven intro is powered along with bassist Deadly Nightshade plucking like a man possessed and giving a backbone to this instrumental noise fest. The record closes with the epic Goldberry. At nearly 8 minutes long, the band work it from gentle folk to fully grown rock anthem that carries the listener along, setting the pulse racing faster in the process.

Spirit Of The Dead are a band that really belong in a different decade but I for one am thankful that they make the music they do. In a world of Coldplay, Kings Of Leon and Snowpatrol who deliver us overproduced commercial pop masquerading as indie cool, Spirits Of The Dead are a breath of fresh air.


[][][][][ (4.5/5)


Kutosis: Shadows (single)

With the Darkness making a comeback and proving that the public still have an appetite for their balls to the wall brand of cock rock, Welsh rockers Kutosis may well find themselves well placed to join the bandwagon. Now, I am sure they wont like being compared to The Darkness or even being labelled metal as you get the feeling they take their influences from the likes of The Buzzcocks and The Clash but vocalist Ian has more than a touch of the Justin Hawkins about his delivery.

Shadows is a slice of punky metal that would have the mosh pit heaving with its straightforward rocking power chord workout. B side Skin feels more grounded in the punk ethos than the A side with some great drumming and guitar dischord. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.


Download the single for free from here


Sonny: Illuminant (ep)

Sonny is a bedroom knob twiddler with what would appear to be a fixation with the Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros. There is little to get excited about here as his perfect diction delivery sound like he is auditioning for an Lloyd Webber musical while the music itself feels soulless, directionless and unimaginative.

Opener Shine Like Silver has the dreamy guitars nailed but the production, percussion and vocals drain any spark of life it has within the first few bars. We are firmly in musical theatre territory with the other 3 tracks, Dew Bright Earth, Everything Was Golden and Wonder Of Snow. These songs, I use the word songs in the loosest term, reek of self indulgence with half baked lyrics and little songwriting skills.

It is not often that I can't find any redeemable qualities in someone's music but Sonny has succeeded here.



Jon Gomm: Message In A Bottle (single)

This is the second in a series of singles being releases by the Leeds based guitarist and songwriter. The only indication that this is a cover of The Police classic are the lyrics, as the musical makeover it is given by Gomm's incredible guitar playing pushes the melody to its very boundaries.

There is no doubt that Gomm is one of the most exciting, innovative and original musicians we have came across and he deserves a far bigger platform for his talents. With every release his following grows and it is no wonder when he is producing music of this quality. If there was any justice this would be all over radio 2 and Later with Jools would be begging Mr Gomm to grace their show.


watch the video

~ Friday, 18 November 2011

Maeve O'Boyle: Intermission (ep)

We loved O'Boyle's debut album here at The Music Critic hq, so we were quite excited when this mini album arrived. Intermission is a stripped bare acoustic and vocal affair with re-recordings of tracks from her debut along with some choice covers.

The record kicks of with a cover of Tom Wait's Ol'55 and straight away you are struck by the sheer purity and warmth of O'Boyle's voice. This lady has the ability to raise the hairs on the back of the neck with effortless ease. This is a fine interpretation of a great song that manages to top Waits himself. She also cover Springsteen's No Surrender and, somewhat bizarrely, Resist by Canadian rockers Rush. Both are good but fall short of the magic she showed on Ol'55.

On her debut album there was one track that producer Calum Malcolm just got completely wrong and this has been redressed here. Facing Home is arguably O'Boyle's finest song and a firm live favourite but when it appeared on her debut album it had been over produced and its simplicity destroyed. Here, in its stripped bare form, the vulnerability of the lyrics are matched by the haunting lit of O'Boyle's voice and it is just simply beautiful.

For me though, it is the brilliant Taxi that steals the show. Written when O'Boyle was only 13, it is a masterful slice of pop that paints pictures of late night Glasgow and lingers in the head long after the closing bar. I would go as far as to say that Maeve O'Boyle is the best female singer songwriter that Scotland has produced in the last 30 years. Seriously.... this girl is that good.



Stuart McCallum: Distilled - Album of the Month - November 2011

McCallum is the guitarist with the wonderful Cinematic Orchestra and with Distilled he has produced a beautiful record that sounds sublime. There is no doubt that some may find the experimental nature of the record and lack of vocals challenging but this is a record of layers and depth that reveals something new with each listen.

Album opener dR Doctor is a blissful mix of percussion and guitar in perfect harmony that could just as easily fill a dance floor as it could captivate an audience. McCallum's use of samples and effects gives a 'trip hop' feel while his guitar playing has shades of Pat Metheny and Allan Holdsworth. Both Hillcrest parts I and II are perfect examples of this as he slips into avant garde jazz mode. The acoustic La Cigale and Fokey Dokey are both dream like, with the former giving way to disjointed jazz leanings and the latter unfolding into a summers walk in a meadow of tall grass swaying in the breeze as the sun shimmers in the late evening haze.

Vital Space takes orchestral elements and bends the rules with erratic drum patterns and delayed guitar harmonics for a sensory treat for your ears and brain but it is the mesmerising Inflight that steals the show for me. The repetitive blend of electronica with acoustics and its changing time signatures are trance like while the guitar work is both complementary and disjointed. Bloody genius.

The album closed on the title track which wouldn't seem out of place on a Laurent Garnier dj set or on the terrace of Cafe Del Mar as the sun sets with its driving beats and synth riff layered with string samples. I like this record a lot. This is emotive music that many people will label as 'jazz' while the jazzers will dismiss it as to left field but to me it is beautiful, challenging, mesmerising and original. A record to cherish.


[][][][][] (5/5)

~ Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Transfer: Future Selves

San Deigo's Transfer have a sound which is familiar. This album is like a magpies nest, with little trinkets lifted from all around and used to beautify their nest, or in this case record. There is no getting away from the comparisons with Athlete, The Killers, Elbow and Arcade Fire, and we all know that originality is the long road to fame, so why not take a few short cuts and nod your hat to those who have paved the way before you.

Transfer have stardom written all over them. They have the grandiose sound that is made for reverberating around a stadium. They have the quirky look that says 'we are coooool'. They also thankfully possess a drummer of Keith Moon proportions in Andy Ridley who rattles around that kit of his like a man on a mission. For all this I'm just not that into it. We have seen it all before and conviction, musicianship and a big sound can't distract from the lack of quality songs.

From the off front man Matthew Molarius does his best Brandon Flowers impersonation, which if he had the voice for it would work, but he just lacks the power and depth. Opener Losing Composure is only memorable for the brilliant drumming while Take Your Medicine (may we suggest Prozac) is middle of the road pop with a few bells and whistles and a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. We almost had our lighters in the air half way through My Suspicions. Yep, these guys can do cheese with the best of them, just check out Get Some Rest if you need further proof.

The San Diego Symphony add some much needed texture to this record and certainly contributes to the albums big sound. In amongst the mire of mediocrity there are a few gems like the Joy Divisionesque Enojado, again the drumming is the star but the reverb laden vocals are an inspired inclusion. The best track by a mile is the wonderful White Horse (which is a bonus track) with a great guitar riff that Ritchie Blackmore would be proud of and you know what,
Matthew Molarius sound right at home as he nails it and shows he actually has a great voice, far better than the rest of this album suggests.

I have no doubt that this album will break these guys here in the UK and Europe. It has hit written all over it. I may not like it but I can see why millions will. One for fans of The Killers, Snow Patrol and Kings Of Leon for sure.


[][][ (2.5/5)


Annette Berlin: Lady At The Window (single)

Lady At The Window is a departure from Berlin's normal output. Gone is the 'Garage' sound and in its place is synthetic pop that tries to be a little bit R'n'B, a little bit Trip Hop and a little bit to clever for its own good. Some might say it is laid back but then again there is also the point of view that it is just plain boring. I'd go for the latter

If night nurse came in a musical form then this would be it. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.



Madison Violet: The Good In Goodbye

Canadian duo Madison Violet have been building a reputation since their first album back in 2004 with their winsome Americana inspired folk, with 2009's No Fool For Trying establishing them as serious contenders.

The Good In Goodbye is one of those records that you turn to on a lazy Sunday afternoon and that is both the charm and the problem with this album. In many ways this is background music, very well written, played and recorded but hard to get excited about. Having listened to this album several times over the past week I could not tell you a single lyric, hum you a melody from it or name any of the songs other than the title track. There is nothing really to dislike about this album, it is just that I can't get excited about it.

The tone for the record is set with the opener If I Could Love You. A perfectly pleasant, non offensive piece of non de-script folk pop that you hear in a thousand coffee house stereos the world over. This formula is repeated throughout. Home, Stuck In Love, Fallen By The Wayside, Colour In Grey etc all pass gently by without leaving the slightest mark on my memory or emotions. It is only Come As You Are, with its ever-so-slightly rockier edge, Emily, resplendent banjo and lovely vocal harmonies, and Cindy Cindy, is that Bluegrass... surely not, that departs from the monophonic sound that makes up this record.

This is a record that left no impression with me. I neither like or dislike it, care if I heard it again or be bothered if I did. I find it rare that music can leave me with no reaction of any kind but this record has. I dare say that if I owned a coffee shop it would be top of my play list. Nothing like playing it safe.


[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Thursday, 10 November 2011

Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty: Way Down Here

Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty is Vancouver based singer songwriter Connely Farr and an assortment of friends and session players. The name seems appropriate as the sound is certainly 'dirty', with a straightforward rocking energy that brings to mind bands like Crazy Horse, Gin Blossoms and Wilco. This is rock 'n' roll, with hints of country and blues played with an undeniable enthusiasm that is as infectious as the music.

The live feel of the record is something I really like. It is produced but not over polished. Producer Jon Wood and engineer Brian Barr have done a fantastic job here. The album opens with the Americanaesque Rain Keeper with a great drum sound driving Farr's tuneful vocal drawl, all underpinned with a 'bar room' piano. As if by total contrast, the title track is tuneless and instantly forgettable with Farr mumbling his way through with no conviction of any kind. You normally expect the title track to be the shining star of any album but this really is turgid stuff. Thankfully this is the only real moment of musical suicide and we get back on track with the bluesy Had To Leave Her with some great guitar histrionics from Ben Yardley. The beautiful starkness of Battle Song is a real highlight. This is a song that benefits from the sheer simplicity of the arrangement and is one song that has certainly stuck in my head.

Stranger and Butterfly bare comparison to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan with the former being a particularly fine song. The short but sweet Banjo Song is certainly an oddball track but it is perhaps my favourite of the 11 track on this album. It is in no way representative of anything else on the album and as such just catches you unaware. The album closes on Wooden Nickles, a building wannabee rock monster that begs to be at least another 3 minutes longer as just as it bursts into life it ends.

Farr certainly has it in him to write brilliant dirty bluesy alt-countryish rock songs, as this album shows... but he also appears to be guilty of being too self indulgent at times. When this album works, it is as good as early Springsteen or pre stadium pomp Kings of Leon and you can't argue with that.


[][][][] (4/5)


Don Lee: Fool To Even Care

When we reviewed Lee's last album, we compared his sound to that of Squeeze and Glenn Tilbrook. The emails from outraged fans poured in, who wished to point out that Don is his own man and should not be compared to anyone. Well guys, sorry to disappoint you all again but Fool To Even Care has Lee's love affair with Tilbrook all over it. Now, this is not a bad thing. Lee knows how to craft a song and he is blessed with a powerful and sweet voice. The dynamics he uses in the structure of his songs gives his music a quirky edge that means that he is always going to draw comparisons with Tilbrook.

Fool To Even Care marks a leap in the quality of production from his previous work. This is a beautiful sounding record with depth, warmth and clarity present on every track. The album springs into life with the bouncy How Do You Play? with some great bass playing and killer guitar hooks. Given that Lee plays all the instruments, except drums, it is remarkable how he has managed to make it sound 'live'.

The funky vibe of Pay Your Love In Full is made all the more appealing given the dual vocal approach with Alina Zimmerman's throaty vocals proving a contrast to Lee's poppier tones. Stand out track for me is the sublime Never That Far which twists chords and beats in a triumphant pop masterpiece. The bittersweet Starlight is no less beguiling with the simplicity of just guitar and vocal showing Lee's mellower side. He also shows he is no slouch in the guitar department with some blistering solos scattered throughout this record, and he gets to rock and show his dirtier side (guitar speaking of course) on both Get Out My Way & Rub It In.

The album closes on the quirky Nowhere To Go with Jack Mariachi & Ken Masson whipping up a storm on drums and percussion. Mariachi's drumming throughout this record is superb and really binds it together. There is no argument from me that Lee is his own man, and a very talented one at that, but his sound is such a distinctive one that it is impossible not to draw comparisons to the songs of Glenn Tilbrook. For me that is no bad thing.


[][][][][ (4.5/5)

~ Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Soulphonics: The Dynamic Sounds Of The Soulphonics

The Austin 3 piece that is the Soulphonics have a psychedelic heart. Their 'garage rock' sound has much in common with bands like Moby Grape and Quick Silver Messenger Service while Glen Worley's naive vocals add a twee twist to proceedings.

The guys are not trying to reinvent the wheel here but instead put a bit more air in the tyres. The album opens with the driving beat of Time Has Changed, complete with chopping guitars that Wilco Johnson would be proud of. The production has a kind of endearing diy feel to it which only adds to the whole punk ethos. Most of the 16 tracks on here are originals but they do tackle a couple of covers and their version of The Brogues 1965 hit I Ain't No Miracle Worker, with Reid Watson taking on vocal duties and outshining Worley, captures the spirit the original as does their version of The Squires Going All The Way. There is no doubt that these guys wear their musical hearts on their sleeves.

Worley proves himself to be pretty nifty in the writing department with brilliant Can't See Love being a stand out, as is the instrumental El Caribe but it is downright dirty Don't Bring 'Er!' that nudges it for best track.

There is much to like about The Soulphonics, especially if your record collection includes The Turtles, The Ramones or Ten Years After. Their sound is naive, as are the lyrics, production and musicianship but that is why I like it. This record wasn't made for me or you. It was made because the band want to and I for one am glad that I get to share it.


[][][][] (4/5)


J. Harbourne: Hills Of Home (ep)

When the word charity appears on a press release my expectations of the music on offer is always low. Hills Of Home is proof that sometimes you need to put your preconceptions aside. This ep was inspired by the death of Harbourne's friend Lance Bombardier Matthew Hatton who was killed at the age of 23 while serving in Afghanistan and is being released as a tribute to his friend with all profits from the sale of the ep going to Help For Heroes.

The title track is a folk song at heart but it is infused with lush pop melodies and heartfelt lyrics that are touching without being sycophantic. Request doesn't quite have the instant appeal of the opener but track 3, Actress, most certainly does. Its off kilter guitar and
Jacques Brel inspired vocals make it a weirdly wonderful song.

The ep closes with the upbeat Sand, backed with a bossanova beat and jangling guitars that is completely different from the other 3 tracks. Harbourne's background is in musical theatre but thankfully this ep shows no hint of that. This ep shows Harbourne to be a fine songwriter and I'm sure that his friend would approve, both of the heartfelt music and the charity that will benefit from its.



The Bloogs: The Bloogs (ep)

London based indie kids The Bloogs are a bit of a grower. On the first few listens to their self titled 4 track ep, it was hard to get excited about their generic jangly 'Brit Pop' sound but they kind of whittled me down. They have shades of The Kinks, Squeeze and The Bluetones about their sound with front man Ross Brown having more than a passing resemblance vocally to the Bluetones Mark Morriss.

Opener Sideways is let down, as is the whole ep, by the poor production which is lifeless and flat. The band describe this song as 'Oasis without the attitude'. Don't do yourself down guys, it sounds nothing like the Beatles. Species Apart reminds me of Ian Dury & The Blockheads while Run It By The River is a pretty forgettable piece of pub rock. The ep closes on its strongest track. Revelling is twisting battle between chiming acoustic guitar, killer hooks and a memorable chorus.

It is a bit hit and miss for the guys but shows enough promise that with a good engineer and producer on board, they may just be able to do something special.


~ Thursday, 6 October 2011