Japanese Gum: Hey Folks! Nevermind, We Are All Falling Down

Japanese Gum are the Italian duo of Paolo Tortora and Davide Cedolin. Their aim is to create soundscapes that are both challenging and experimental while retaining a commercial edge and to a certain extent they manage to do what it says on the tin. The music itself sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain jamming with Ennio Morricone, but the reverb laden vocals are reduced to nothing more than an annoying mumble at the back of the mix as if put there as an after thought.

If commercial success is the game plan for the guys, well it ain't gonna happen, although they do have crossover appeal for both the dance and indie markets. I do actually really like this album. I like the lo-fi production and experimental nature of it. I also like the fact that there are actually songs on here. It is easy for an act to hide behind the technology and dazzle us with a series of electronic bleeps and breaks that make no concession to actually making it an enjoyable experience for the listener. On this album Japanese Gum manage to balance the music and the technology, vocals apart, pretty much perfectly.

It would not be fair to review this on an individual track basis as it is clearly not intended to be listened to that way. Instead listen to this album as a whole and immerse yourself in the chilled soundtrack. As avant guarde as it is, it is actually an enjoyable experience.

www.japanesegum.net

[][][][ (3.5/5)

~ Thursday, 17 December 2009

Andrew Vincent: Rotten Pear

There is something familiar about Vincent. It is not because this is the 5th album from the Canadian, but more to do with the way his music crosses genres. This album goes from folk to punk to indie while hardly pausing for breath.

The voice is fragile, part Don McLean part Paul Simon, and as such it works best when the music is more restrained. Opener Hi Lo is the perfect vehicle for him, as is the hypnotic Going Out Tonight. Both these songs have a gentle rhythm and warm arrangements that don't swamp the subtle tone of his voice. Where this album struggles to work is when he strays into the twee indie mumbling of Fooled Again and the particularly mind numbing Nobody Else. Think Elliot Smith on anti depressants.

This album for me is two albums that never quite made it and ended up as one. Like he couldn't make up his mind what he wanted to do. Pity, as he really does excel on the bittersweet and mellower tracks. It is only when he tries to rock out that is fails miserably.

When he can write songs of the beauty of Sleep To Dream and the equally wonderful Bus Stop, it is hard to believe that he is capable of writing dross like Under Your Thumb. We are subjected to quite possibly some of the most cringe worthy lyrics of the year when he warbles 'you wanna fight, you wanna fuck and you wanna get high' and believe me, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

This had the possibility of being a worthy album (check out his cover of Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love), but Vincent strays to far from what he is good at. This mixed with the naive narrative he gives to his songs, means that this is, with the odd exception, a pretty forgettable record.


www.myspace.com/andrewvincentsongs

[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Don Lee: Signs and Other Symbols

This second album from the New Jersey singer songwriter wears its influences on its sleeve. From the first few chords of opener Locked Out there is no doubt that Squeeze, and Glenn Tilbrook in particular, have played a major part in Lee's musical upbringing.

The music is quirky with low budget production values which only adds to its likability as
he mounts a charm offensive with a clutch of infectiously catchy tunes that lodge themselves in your head and rattle around, resulting in random humming and foot tapping. Miracle is a fine example of his craft with its instantly singable chorus and chiming guitars. Lee obviously has a grasp of crafting a pop song, but he really is going to find it hard to shake off the Squeeze comparisons.

What Would It Take To Make You Stay? is probably his biggest departure from the sound that pervades the rest of the album, with his vocals sounding like a Jack Daniels drinking Paul McCartney
. Ok, it is pretty much a whole hearted rip off of Tilbrook's solo work, just listen to his Transatlantic Ping Pong or The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook albums and you will see what I mean, but Lee does have an undeniable likability about him and obviously has a passion for what he does that may just prove enough to make him his own man. I hope it does as this is a good album.

www.donleesounds.com

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

~ Monday, 14 December 2009

Codeine Velvet Club: Hollywood/I Am The Resurrection (single)

The Fratellis front man Jon Lawler is a busy man. Not content with shifting 2 million albums with his day job, he brings us his Phil Spector lounge inspired project backed with a deal from Island Records. If you are expecting the Fratellis, then your going to be disappointed.

Hollywood is a lush slab of pop that brings to mind ELO with a slice of the Pet Shop Boys thrown in for good measure. The vocal interaction with Lawler and the fresh talent of Lou Hickey gives the song a slight festive feel. The flip side is a cover of the Stone Roses classic I Am The Resurrection and pretty good it is to.

Their debut album is released on the 28th Dec and is already causing a stir with the radio lovies don't you know.

www.codeinevelvetclub.com

Listen to I Am The Resurrection

~ Friday, 11 December 2009

The Hush Now: Wishing You A Happy Christmas (single)

There is no tinsel or jingle bells going on here with this Crimbo single that the Boston 5 piece are giving away free on their website.

In terms of quality, this is not going to set the world on fire. Don't get me wrong... It is not a bad song, but it is badly recorded and singer Noel Kelly sounds like he has a ferret attached to his nuts. If the band want to achieve commercial success, perhaps Kelly needs to step back and concentrate on his guitar skills and leave the vocals to someone more capable.


Our advice is to give this a miss and instead download their far more appealing self titled debut album which they are also giving away for free from the link below.

www.thehushnow.com

Download The Hush Now for free

~ Wednesday, 9 December 2009

I, Ludicrous: We're The Support Band (single)

To those of us of a certain age and with a self deprecating sense of humour, I, Ludicrous will raise a knowing smile. With an overwhelming love of Mark E Smith, their music is The Fall meets Suicide meets Frank Sidebottom. They don't take themselves to seriously and nor should you.

We're The Support Band is a new recording of their anthem for all those acts who have found themselves first on the bill in the back room of the local boozer with a drummer who has no rhythm, a bass player who thinks he is Lemmy and a singer with a vocal style similar to a stylophone. Yes this is a fun single. The joke could wear a bit thin on repeated listening, but who cares. It I, Ludicrous. Their legends and we love em'.

www.iludicrous.co.uk

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Portico Quartet: Isla

Instrumental albums can be a strange affair. They rely purely on the strength of the music. There is no singer to hide behind. No big personality hogging the mic. Then again jazz is one of those styles that can easily pull off the instrumental album with aplomb. The Portico Quartet are an interesting proposition. They are a jazz band, no doubt, but they combine elements from Classical, Latin and middle Eastern music to great effect. The result is at times dis-jointed, but hey, that's jazz.

For me this is a mixed bag. There is no doubting the talent of the musicianship on display and there are some real moments of pure joy. Opener Paper Scissors Stone is an atmospheric workout that sees some fantastic Sax work by Jack Wylie and The Visitor, as with Dawn Patrol, has a hypnotic vibe that is hard to resist, but on Shed Song and Clipper they descend into a blur of self indulgence that leaves the listener behind.

Ok, these blips aside this is a very enjoyable piece of work. It probably won't appeal to those who are taking their first foray into the jazz world, but it certainly should not be discounted, as I defy anyone to listen to Life Mask and not be moved. It is worth buying for this track alone.

www.porticoquartet.com

[][][] (3/5)

~ Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Gliss: Devotion Imposion

The jury is out for me on this one. In fact, to be honest the jury’s out, came back and delivered a rotten verdict. Gliss! You’re being banged up. I sentence you to 18 months listening to some decent records in the hope that you learn about structure, arrangement and how to switch off and stop hiding behind a distortion pedal.

I’m not sure if the band are too busy trying to be cool and stay with it with interesting tweets and tales of their mates and partying on the road, but the good bands can do both, party and deliver great albums. You’re trying too hard to be cool. Though maybe they are cool and I’m missing the point? Fair enough.

There’s just a feeling that I’ve heard it all before and I have, loads of times. I don’t know. It sounds particularly eighties and not too the inspiring. There are some nice touches such as 29 Acts of Love and also on Morning Light which are good but you spend more time trying to remember who they sound like. I’m not sure if they’re really into this or they’re just taking the Gliss? This album should’ve been called Style Over Content. The songs aren’t strong enough and it feels like they’re standing in front of the mirror waiting for pop stardom to arrive. You’ve missed the boat.

It also sounds like they’re the bitter old guys in the hip pub that used to be cool but can’t quite give it up. Sometimes you wish people would just be a bit more inspired, try a bit harder. We don’t need another copy of a copy of a band doing their best to be a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound-alike with the ubiquitous hippy chick with cool cheek bones trying to do her Nico really low in the mix.

It sounds like they read the book of rock’n’roll, but fell asleep at the bit about talent. This in case you haven’t picked up yet, is a resounding no. This is turgid, uninspiring and average. They get one mark for at least having a go. This is all I have to say.

www.gliss.tv

[] (1/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

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Seasonal Sevens: Autumn

The Seasonal sevens are a series of 7" vinyl single releases by Autumn Ferment Records that features 2 different artists contributing a song representing the various seasons. For this the Autumn edition the label has brought together Pamela Wyn Shannon and The Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree, both equally beguiling in their own right.

Woolgathering from Wyn Shannon is quite simply beautiful. Her voice is soothing and inspiring, interacting perfectly with the instrumentation of the dreamy guitar, lilting strings and ethereal sound of the glockenspiel. Really wonderful stuff.

The Magickal Folk's offering is the low-fi, slightly twee The Blackthorn Tree. The off kilter vocal harmonies are endearing, giving the song a feel of a modern day nursery rhyme.

It is brilliant to see a small label that is bringing out quality music in a vinyl format. Long may it continue.

www.myspace.com/seasonalsevens

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Michael MacLennan: History (e.p)

MacLennan may find it hard to avoid comparisons with the likes of Jamie Cullum or Billy Joel, but then again that is not bad company to be in. This e.p showcases the jazz/pop style of the Scottish songwriter and will certainly find him favour from the radio 2 faithful. Title track History is a jazz infused ballad that benefits from a great arrangement and MacLennan easy piano style.

The Long Goodbye is a storming anthemic slice of pop that brings to mind Hothouse Flowers and Marc Cohen. Rousing stuff. The sugary Let It Fall is the one track that fails to connect, perhaps because he has set such a high standard with the other two song. The e.p concludes with a studio extra in the shape of I Don't Know Why, a plaintive stripped bare piano and vocal track that shows their is a lot more to come from the talented songwriter.

www.michaelmaclennan.co.uk

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Rhesus: Bored Games (e.p)

This young 4 piece from the Black Country have their influences in the lighter, poppier side of rock, giving them a more commercial sound than would be the current fashion. Their sound is not a million miles away from American pop rockers like Wheatus or the pop balladry of the Jonas Brothers, but the vocals and production are not yet polished enough to make them stand out.

Of the 4 tracks on offer, it is the opener Liar that is the strongest, having a more driven sound that would certainly make it radio friendly. This e.p shows a lot of promise, but until they find their own sound it is difficult seeing them being anything more than local heroes.

www.rhesusrock.com

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Albino: I Love Everyone (single)

Yeh.... A Christmas single that does not feature Noddy Holder or a squeaky voiced child trying to fill you full of the sentiment of the festive season. Albino are a folk based collective from Widnes who have obviously had their fair share of horror filled family Christmases. The music ticks all the Christmas single boxes. Sleigh Bells. Check. Pan Pipes. Check..... You get the idea, but it is the lyrics that are at the heart of this twisted ditty.

We all have that one relative who gets blind drunk and tries to touch up the daughter of a family friend and tearfully tells everyone how much they love them never to be seen again till next Christmas. This is their anthem. I would not expect to hear this on radio 2 over the festive period, but it would make a refreshing and enjoyable change. All together now..... Bah Humbug.

www.albinomusic.info

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Twinkranes: Spektrumtheatresnakes

This mini album from Dublin 3 piece Twinkranes is an attention grabber from the off. A blend of driving beats, droning organs, electronic squeaks and aggressive guitars are put to good use on this psychedelic album that Beefheart would have been proud of. There is not much known about these guys. The existence of a biog is noticeable by its absence, so it is fair to say that fame and fortune may not have been the aim with this record, but it may just come their way regardless.

The instrumental opener High Tekk Train Wrekk makes for an uncompromising start. A bullet from a smoking gun that is as infectious as it is un-nerving. This album won't be everyone's cup of tea. Hell, I don't even know if it is mine, but it is highly original.


The production is a straight ahead no frills affair that adds to the retro vibe of the whole album. Witch Hunt is a track that kind of sums up the whole feel of the band. A riotous explosion of relentless sounds that encompass the senses and beats you into submission, while The Charmer strays into prog rock territory ala Emerson, Lake and Palmer, showing a willingness to take on the unfashionable.

Listening to the 7 tracks on here is an interesting, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience that shows a band pushing the bounderies and all the better for it.

www.myspace.com/twinkranes

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

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Cats For Peru: Attack Of The Pitching Machine

This is a seriously endearing debut record from the Sheffield band. Part nu-folk, part quirky indie, they have fashioned a wee niche for themselves that finds them sitting somewhere between Athlete and British Sea Power. There is freshness to their sound that brings to mind The Fall when Mark E Smith was a force to be reckoned with.

Opener Manifesto is a slow burning slice of pop that flirts with electronica that has an anthemic feel to it, but it is when the band plant themselves in the indie field that they excel. Love In A Lift has its roots firmly in the 80's, while the stand out I Love You More Than Evolution is like the bastard offspring of The Zutons.

Not everything works on here. Final track Last Man In Europe is perhaps the weakest link and certainly would not have been missed if it found itself left on the cutting room floor, but this is a forgivable flaw when there are track of such beauty as Answers and the pulsating The Bearded One.

This is an album that certainly should make sure Cats For Peru appear on many peoples radars in 2010. This is an album worth seeking out.

www.catsforperu.co.uk

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

~ Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Aldo Cruickshank: Lucky 23

Listening to Lucky 23, by Aldo Cruickshank, is like pulling up the duvet on a wet, wintry Sunday with your comfy pyjamas on. You know it's 3PM, you still feel fuzzy but the CD’s on repeat and you’ve another half hour in bed. Until now, Aldo's reputation has been garnered through his road crew work with The Proclaimers, so imagine everyone's shock when old demos surfaced on the tour bus and the twins stormed off and hired a jet for the rest of the tour.

Unless it's unreleased Elvis demos on Sun Records, I’m not a fan any artist shoving out demos. It's about value, showbiz, doing it for the fans. However, one of the most beguiling qualities of Lucky 23 is the understated nature of the 7 track mini album, recorded in 2007 by David Whitelaw and remastered by Andy Gardener. The result is available on Proclaimers bassist Garry John Kane’s label, Button Up Records.

The opener You Make My (Soul Rise) is like delicious homemade bread dipped in soup that's a day old and tastes so much better. All Our Yesterdays requires a call to the pop analogy hotline. I settled for more hooks than an Abu Hansa convention.

There's an evocative charm, embellished with graceful subtle piano, slide guitar and lap steel. The familiar boxes of the Glasgow songwriter's rainy landscape are all ticked. Unfulfilled dreams, unrequited love but there's a restrained optimism and of course, there's oceans and prevailing westerlies. On the dramatic closing track Could Have Been Me despite the familiar opening chords and nod to Prince; it’s more purple heather than purple rain.

Who does it sound like? Maybe Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub doing a country project and vocally close to early T Rex and Dream Academy.

Get your hands on the limited edition CD or download the album via his myspace, then get the soup on.

www.myspace.com/aldocruickshank

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Sunday, 22 November 2009

we're back... Sorry for the lack of activity.

Sorry for the lack of activity on the site recently. Things have been a bit hectic at the music critic HQ, but we have a load of new reviews waiting to be uploaded and we will be launching a brand new look site in December that will also feature interviews, live reviews and videos.

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Harry Manx: Bread & Buddha - Album of the Month - October 2009

Manx is a troubadour. A musician that is always travelling and experiencing the musical delights that the world has to offer. His music is blues, but is infused with influences from India and Asia. In the 80's Manx moved to India to learn under the tutorship of Rajasthani musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who won a Grammy with his collaboration on A Meeting By The River with Ry Cooder. During this time he was gifted a Mohan veena, a 20-stringed sitar/guitar, by Bhatt which now heavily influences his music.

Manx is blessed with a breathy voice that is both evocative and soothing, perfectly suited to the laid back feel that pervades this album. Opener Nine Summers Lost is deep in Ry Cooder territory, no bad thing, but still retains a vibe that makes it unmistakably Manx.
We get our first taste of the Mohan Veena on True To Yourself. The Eastern influences prevalent in the ethereal backing vocals of Samidha Joglekar and that beautiful mystical sound produced by the Mohan Veena.

This is a vibe album. A weekend treat to relax to, the perfect antidote to the working week. There are no duds on here at all. Your Eyes Have Seen is a particularly brilliant track. The excellent and delicate slide guitar plays nicely alongside the bittersweet, downbeat even, lyrics.

Even if your not a blues fan, the songs on here are strong enough to enthral. It reminds me a lot of the great slide players like Kelly Joe Phelps and Johnny Dickinson, but there is also a feel of 'Local Hero' era Mark Knofler. This is a great album, confident and endearing from a musician that really should be better known than he is.

www.harrymanx.com

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

~ Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Brothers Movement: The Brothers Movement

Hold on.... just want to check something. Nope, it is not an early Verve demo. Sorry about that, but The Brothers Movement have a very similar sound to Richard Ashcroft and cohorts, but slightly more psychedelic. Hailing from Dublin, you get the feeling they used to listen to The Frank and Walters and it rubbed off on them. In a previous life the band were called Mainline and touted by the likes of NME and Q, only then they sported a harder sound than this new incarnation.

The 11 tracks on this self titled debut are all deeply rooted in the bands obvious love of the psychedelic sound, coming across like a poor man's 13th Floor Elevators, but it is the production and not the songs, as weak as they are, that really lets this album down. The mix is reverb laden and the guitar sounds are harsh, making for uncomfortable listening.

The album opens with the best track on the record. Blind could easily be a Verve track, with Neil Paxton sounding uncannily like Richard Ashcroft. Someday also works well, the interaction of the guitars with the organ lifting it above the ordinary. Unfortunately the rest of the album fails to ignite any passion as they trot out a succession of 'Madchester' sounding tracks that even bands like Northside wouldn't have touched with a barge pole. The Salute and Coming Home feel like the band are trying to be the Stone Roses and failing miserably.

This really is pretty turgid and uninspiring stuff that is badly recorded and executed. Avoid.

www.myspace.com/thebrothersmovement


[] (1/5)

~ Thursday, 22 October 2009

Flood Of Red: Leaving Everything Behind

Flood Of Red have been a name to reckon with since they first appeared on the scene with their debut single An Hour Away, a shouty slab of Emo rock, but as this album shows the band have grown up since then. Under the watchful eye of producer Brian McTernan, the band have found a more melody driven sound that shows a maturity way beyond their years.

In front man Jordan Spiers the band have a vocalist capable of intense emotion and his style is perfectly suited to the epic soundtrack of the band. While there are comparisons with Lost Prophets and Funeral For a Friend, Flood of Red have a more commercial sound that will certainly appeal to a wide audience.

Hailing from the Scottish town of Airdrie, more Guantanamo bay than Montego bay, the music reflects the urban landscape that the band grew up in. At the beginning of the album we hear Spiers tell us 'I'm from the dullest town I know' and this sets the tone for this brooding and dark piece of work.

While this is certainly an impressive album, a little bit of self editing would not have went a miss. With 14 tracks it is at least 3 tracks to long. Electricity, Losing All Balance in Fells Point and Paper Lungs could all have been left on the cutting room floor and would not be missed. These tracks aside this is an album that stands up to repeated listening.

The Harmony has a feel of Feeder at their finest, while Like Elephants starts out sounding like Snow Patrol before transforming into a overblown slice of pomp rock. Classy stuff. One endearing quality of this record is how Spiers allows his Scottish accent to come through throughout, particularly evident on The Heartless and Loving.

This is music that could just as easily work in a stadium as it could in a sweaty club. It is music played with passion from a band who have spent their time relentlessly touring and perfecting their craft. The album closes where it started with the epic The Edge Of The World. A track that lifts and lays the listener with effortless ease.

This is a mighty fine debut from the young six piece, just not quite the finished article.

www.floodofred.co.uk


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

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The Phantom Band: Throwing Bones (single)

The excellent Phantom Band round off what’s been a wonderful a year with the release of Throwing Bones from the critically acclaimed album Checkmate Savage.

Highlights of 2009, so far, include REM’s Peter Buck's blessing as a convert to the cause, but surely giving Bjorn Again a guitar so they could play Metallica’s Enter Sandman in a Norwegian forest has to be a fitting zenith and in keeping with the surreal nature of The Phantom Band.

This is a good single, a slow burner moving along with a feel close to Can meets Beta Band meets Stereolab. After three or four listens the most noticeable thing, apart from the great driving beat is the change in dynamic with the bass. Mid way through we seem to go into a vocal doo-wop, because bassist Gerry was too drunk to play so Andy mimicked the bass line using his voice. What’s more weird is that it works.

Did you know the Throwing of The Bones is from the culture of central eastern Andes and is one of the most ancient forms of divination? Either that or its something you do with your dog.

Throwing Bones coincides with a tour in November. I’d have selected Folk Song Oblivion as a single and given it 5/5 as it represents the flavour and feel of the live experience far more. However I’m not an A&R man. I’m just a chap who shares a name with a lovable loser and insecure cartoon character.

www.phantomband.co.uk

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 19 October 2009

Martin and James: Bad Dream (ep)

The duo of Martin Kelly and James O'Neill have been catching the attention of labels across Europe for some time, culminating in them signing to Vertigo/Universal music in Germany. Hailing from just outside Glasgow and now relocated to Berlin, it is a sad indictment of the British music industry that these guys were not picked up by a UK label.

They have been compared to Crowded House and Simon & Garfunkle, and it is easy to see why, but there is a lot more to them than the comparisons suggest. The 5 tracks on this ep are dreamy pop/folk all wrapped us with rich vocal harmonies and sealed with a summer twist. Opener She's Like Guiding is a stripped bare, vocal and guitar slice of bittersweet pop that plays with harmonies, both from the guitars and voices, to stunning effect.

The title track is simply wonderful. This is the type of song that the likes of Newton Faulkner and Damian Rice could only dream of writing.
You're A Window raises the tempo with its skiffle beat and repetitive guitar riff and is perhaps the weakest of the songs on offer. Things get back on track with Little Bits Of Light, which has a rockier feel to it, coming across a bit like a cross between Turin Brakes and Elbow. Things are brought to a close with the hypnotic, and best track, Devils In The Doorway. The vocal interaction between the guys here is fantastic and shows a true understanding and awareness of their craft.

Having heard quite a bit of their music, it is clear that these guys have a big future ahead of them and this is a great introduction.

www.martinandjames.com

~ Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement

Just checked the calender there. Was not sure if I had somehow been transported back to 60's America. This album does that to you. Hawthorne's sound shows a love of soul music, even down to the production. It is perhaps no surprise that he has this obsession considering that he grew up just outside Detroit, the soul capital of America.

The idea is a good one. Take that classic sound made famous by Smokey Robinson, The Platters, Curtis Mayfield, et al, and bring it to a new audience, except Mark Ronson already beat him to it. As a songwriter Hawthorne shows he understand the music, the songs are authentic and true. It is just that Hawthorne's vocals don't cut it. It is hard to see past his limp falsetto and enjoy the music on this album. In the hands of, say, Al Green or even Alexander O'Neal this could have been a great album, but as it is, it fails to excite.

Hawthorne's vocal frailties aside, tracks like Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin', Make Her Mine and One Track Mind capture the Atlantic Soul sound perfectly while The Ills is a killer floor filler of real quality in the vain on Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up.

If you are looking for a new take on classic soul, then this may be the album for you. As good as the music is, I personally can't get past Hawthorne's vocals.

www.myspace.com/mayerhawthorne

[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Katy Carr: Coquette

The artwork on this, the 3rd album from the London based songstress, conjures up a bygone era. The 1940's to be exact. A time when the world was at war and Britain had its heroes. A time where girl next door stars like Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields were all the fashion. This era obviously hold a fascination for Carr, but while the song titles are evocative of that time (The White Cliffs, Berliner Ring, Army..... you get the idea), the music is far more current.

Carr's vocals have a breathy quality, sort of Beth Orton meets Cara Dillon with hints of Eleanor McEvoy, but with an undeniable Englishness about it. Musically she takes her influences from the world of folk and mixes it with electonica and lush arrangements for a soundtrack that while not grabbing you on the first listen, certainly grows on you with repeated plays. This is music that requires a wee bit of work on the listeners behalf, but the rewards are certainly worth it.

After the brief opener, Star Song, we are introduced to the wonderful Sparkle, a mesmerising song that has a music box quality about it. Hot on its heals is Berliner Ring, the accordion and arrangement giving it a Parisian feel, conjuring up images of the bustling clubs of occupied France, where glamorous singers entertained the officers and well heeled of Paris.

Carr has an undeniable skill as a song writer and lyricist. Her ability to use music to transport you to another place and time is extraordinary, with tracks like the exquisite Belladonna and the dreamy Violetta proving this beautifully.

This album is a scrapbook of characters, places and stories from deep inside Carr's imagination and it has been a mesmerising experience to glimpse into her world. I can't fault this album. Quite simply it is a masterpiece.

www.katycarr.com

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

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Rachael Sage: Too Many Women (single)

Taken from her 2003 Public Record album, this song is featured in the soundtrack of the remake of the 80's film Fame, and hand picked by the director no less. Those of us still traumatised by the site of Leroy resplendent in lycra and leg warmers from the original film will be surprised to find that this mellow little ditty is not what we would expect to find on the movie's soundtrack.

The comparisons with Tori Amos are inevitable on this piano driven slice of art pop. Sage has a pleasant voice and great interpretation, but as her new album Chandelier proves, her music has moved on little since Too Many Women was recorded.

The exposure that she will gain from the film may push her into the public gaze, but she may struggle to stay there.

www.rachaelsage.com


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Lotte Mullan: Alright With Me (single)

This is the debut single from the likable songstress who has been out on the road touring with The Mercurymen, Henry Priestman, Marcus Bonfanti and others, just learning her craft and winning over audiences with her girl next door demeanour and catchy mix of folk and pop.

Alright With Me is all about being comfortable with who you are and judging by her performance, this is something that Mullan has no problems with. She is not re-inventing the wheel here, but she does what she does with considerable style. Her voice is breathy and endearing while her lyrics, although serious, show she has a fun side. As a precursor to her forthcoming debut album, this is a lovely little snippet of quirky pop that will have you humming all day.

The single is available as a free download for a limited time from her myspace.

www.myspace.com/lottemullan

~ Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Sol Skugga: Fairytales and Lullabies

Swedish singer songwriter Skugga has been steadily releasing albums in her homeland with a Gothic metal edge in the vain of Evanescence and Flyleaf. There are also folk and electronica influences thrown into the mix. The resulting sound it akin to what you would expect Sweden's entry into the Eurovision song contest to sound like.

If you like the watered down soulless sound of poodle permed 80's soft rockers Heart, then you may indeed love this album, but Skugga unfortunately does not posses a voice anywhere near as good as either of the Wilson sisters. Say It opens the album and things look promising with the vocal samples and funky bass line. Sadly this lasts all of 10 seconds before descending into a cliché
ridden slab of naive pop. This song more or less sums up the album, in that there is no real depth to the songwriting. Title track Fairytales and Lullabies makes excruciatingly painful listening, the wispy vocals only serving to irritate the ears further.

It is hard to find any redeeming qualities about this album. Sweden has produced some rockers of real quality in the likes of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and Millencolin. Sadly Skugga is not one of them and instantly forgettable.

www.solskugga.com

[] (1/5)

Review by Dylan Lennon

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Chungin & The Strap-on Faggots: Chungin & The Strap-on Faggots

Chungin & The Strap-On Faggots make you smile. Representing the sound of young Tallinn, Estonia and Berlin they pack a delicious post punk punch wrapped up in cool pop sensibility and sealed with a bubblegum kiss. Just a shame it isn’t 1979.

There’s a tremendous amount of charm and excitement and a good electro punk new wave sound. If you have to say which band in the record shop would they’d be close to obviously it would be a band beginning with C but musically, for easiness they sound like the Hives and The Buzzcocks.

On Cats of Destiny you could be mistaken for thinking a young Johnny Rotten was on vocals. In a perfect world, maybe the bygone days when DJ’s like John Peel championed bands like this, they’d carve out a decent career.

Tight Jeans sounds like a live favourite with a feel of early Magazine. Dogshit City is redolent of The Jam meets Killing Joke with the Damned dropping in with the drink and drugs. The album is underpinned by a great rhythm section with fantastic drumming and great power pop guitar hooks. There’s even some electro pop in there to boot. I’m Not Your Messiah is catchy, funny and brilliantly ironic.

This is a great piece of power pop tinged punk and despite their name maybe not being too Radio 1 friendly for daytime airplay rotation, if they’re really serious calling themselves something 60’s garage sounding like The Stoics might just be the way to breakthrough.

If they’re playing a dingy sweaty club near you check them out. Never mind The Baltics and buy this.

www.myspace.com/chungin

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 10 October 2009

Newton Faulkner: Rebuilt By Humans

If this was a novel, the editor would be brought in and quite rightly slapped about. At the core is a decent enjoyable album but the listening experience is somewhat hindered by too many throw away snippets like Cheltenham, Intro, Resin on my Strings and Resin Theramins. Where Faulkner thinks he’s been quirky, he’s just being self indulgent and interrupts the flow.

Self-editing in any creative format is crucial and on She’s Got The Time, Faulkner and his mates are relaxed as they jam out on a Dylanesque throw away tune. If people around him were smart they’d see that if it was worked on, expanded and developed a hit single could’ve been unearthed. There are too many things happening on this record, chief among them, is Newton Faulkner trying to find himself musically.

Having said all that, there’s no doubting his popularity is down to endeavour, charm and performance. Badman and I Took It Out On You are good songs and in Over and Out there’s a hit single.

Newton Faulkner is marketed as a singer songwriter. If that’s the case, on the evidence of this album, the song writing part isn’t too far off but needs developed. His singing and guitar playing are good but the song writing part needs work. What drives Rebuilt By Humans on is while the songs aren’t outstanding or earth changing, there’s a confidence and belief which is infectious.

On the strength of a repeated listen this album is not an unpleasant experience but it’s not life changing. The overriding feeling is that it’s nearly a great record and could’ve been so much better.

www.newtonfaulkner.com

[][][] (3/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

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Tom Hingley: Thames Valley Delta Blues

As front man for the much venerated Inspiral Carpets, he was the voice of one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the 90's 'Madchester' scene and arguably one of its finest live bands. Many people expected Tom's solo work to be... well, Inspiral Carpets mark II, but the reality is a million miles away from the organ fueled music the band was famed for. His debut, Keep Britain Untidy was an acoustic album recorded live in the studio. No overdubs. No studio trickery. Just vocals and guitar. Thames Valley Delta Blues is conceived through the same ideals.

The one thing that strikes you straight away is that voice. Sweet and pure, ranging between baritone and falsetto with faultless grace. Completely unexpected, but completely captivating.
As with Keep Britain Untidy, the lyrics on this album deals with a particular period in Hingley's life. Here it deals with his relationships with his children, his partner and his friends. Given that Hingley is an articulate orator, you feel like a bit of a voyeur watching from a distance on the intimate details of his life.

As we said before, the music is a big departure from his Inspiral days. There is a mellowness to all 15 songs that has perhaps came with age to the once angry young man, but you feel Hingley has fought his battles and is happy with his lot. There are some songs of great beauty contained here. Thirst Born, Don't Want To Be A Fighter Any More and Tiny Babies show Hingley to be a modern day Woodie Guthrie or Pete Seeger. A beat poet for the 21st century.

Hingley may always be overshadowed by his former band, but that is a pity. He has something to say and it is worth listening to. This is folk music for the modern world, but without the pretension. I like it a lot.

www.tomhingley.co.uk

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

~ Thursday, 8 October 2009

Tom Ovans: Get On Board

This is the 12th, yes 12th album from the irrepressible Austin, Texas musician and has a kind of homemade feel, mainly due to the fact it was recorded as a live session in the studio. Ovans is one of those musicians that can divide the listener into two camps. Maverick genius or Bob Dylan impersonator. Now, I personally can't stand Dylan's music or voice, but I do like Ovans. His brand of dirty blues ridden Americana has a rawness about it with an integrity that is easy to connect with.

Album opener and title track Get On Board is a rockin' bit of alt-country that reminds me of Matthew Sweet at his finest. The voice still has that rasping quality, like a young Rod Stewart, which is perfectly suited to the more stripped back acoustic stuff like Every Single One, Rainbows (very Steve Earle) and the epic To Late Now.

Ovans does like to rock out when he gets the chance. The downbeat and plodding Breakdown and Cry is overshadowed by the more driven Honourable Mention and the short and sweet Never Been In Love, but the stand out Night Train is by far the best of the full band tracks on here. The inclusion of the horn section an inspired decision.

The honour of best track must fall to Western Plains Blues, a truly simple and beguiling piece of county blues that seems to encapsulate what Ovans is all about.

I'm the first to admit that this album won't be everyone's bag, and perhaps Ovans was born 30 years to late, but there is an undeniable charm and honesty to his music that makes him an artist worth searching out.

www.floatingworld.co.uk/music/tom.ovans/index.html

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

~ Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Gliss: Beauty (single)

This is the second single from the LA based trios latest album, Devotion Implosion, who have been touring heavily with the likes of The Hours and Smashing Pumpkins.

Their sound is not really in the same vein as either of the afore mentioned, instead we have pop melodies hidden behind chain saw buzz guitars. There is a shoe gazing element to the song, but in a good way. Think the Pixies covering The Jesus and Mary Chain doing a cover of Yellow by Coldplay. Anyway, it is a catchy little thing. Looking forward to hearing the album.

www.gliss.tv

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Bob Cheevers: Tall Texas Tales

Ok, I admit it, I'm a fan of Bobs. I first encountered Bob around 8 years ago and was totally blown away by his live show, so, while I may be a fan, I am also one of his harshest critics. This is the umpteenth album from the Austin based storyteller, in a career that should have seen him as big a star as say Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, but fate dealt a different hand for Bob. While he gained respect from fellow musicians, his talents have been largely missed by the public. His last album, Fiona's World, was not his finest moment, and while this new album is a somewhat return to form, it still does not capture the shear magic of One Man, One Martin or Gettysburg To Graceland.

To Cheevers and indeed his fans, the lyrics are just as important, if not more so, as the music. It is no exaggeration to say he is one of the last great American storytellers. His ability to let his music paint pictures in your mind is simply amazing. This album is a look at the heart of Texas, each song acting as an insight to Cheevers adopted home.

There are some moments of sheer magic here, but this album takes a couple of listens before it clicks. Give This Heart is a bittersweet tale of love and really is one of the best songs that Cheevers has ever written. Is It Ever Gonna Rain is classic Bob. The fragility of his voice laid bare on the sparse arrangement, which allows the lyrics to shine.

One track that would have been best left on the cutting room floor is the Zydeco tinged Luckenbach which just doesn't work, the accordion just becomes irritating while the mock crowd whooping is cringe worthy. Album opener Grown Up People is another that fails to ignite any passion, at best it can be described as a filler track. There is enough on here to suggest that these are temporary blips as album closer Falling is more like what we know Bob is capable of, while Mushroom Cloud Lil is an epic unfolding tale which brings to mind one of Bob's earlier classics, Old Soul.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good album, just not Bob's best, but still head and shoulders above other pretenders out there.

www.bobcheevers.com

[][][][ (3.5/5)

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Her Make Believe Band: AM Radio

The debut long player from this quirky band hailing from Auckland, but based in London, is a confident and infectious piece of work. Based around the songwriting talents of Cy Winstanley, they produce a masterful blend of Americana fused with Jazz, Soul and Pop. The bubblegum melodies are given extra depth by the vocal harmonies of Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan, with Winstanley sounding uncannily like a cross between Paul Simon and Tim Finn.

The previously mentioned vocal harmonies are used to great effect on the album opener Welcome Home, a song that sounds like a long lost 10,000 Maniacs masterpiece. The production is excellent, allowing the songs to breath and beautifully warm. The title track and The Last Hour however, manage to steal the limelight. Building slowly through out, both are lovingly crafted slices of Americana.

This is an easy album to get into, sure the lyrics are throwaway, but the music is seriously good. Sometimes you just want to listen to something that isn't trying to change the world. It does have its tender moments though on Lonely Soul and I Can't Help Dreaming Of You, both having a feel of Neil Young, Harvest Moon era, about them.

This is a record that is hard to pigeon hole and all the more enjoyable for it. A truly worthwhile addition to anyones music collection.

On a non musical note, the digi pak packaging of the cd is made from 100% recycled cardboard and biodegradable paper foam. A nice touch.

www.hermakebelieveband.com

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

~ Friday, 2 October 2009

Ben Reel: Time To Get Real

There is a well worn expression for this type of music. Music that neither delights or dismays. 'Middle of the road' describes this album perfectly. Ben Reel hails from Northern Ireland, but there is little evidence to hint to that here, as his inspiration is from America. Where fellow Irish songwriters like Bap Kennedy and Declan O'Rourke take this inspiration and craft into something original, Reel fails to inspire and this album fails to rise above mediocrity.

Some of the tracks here seem like a parody of country music. Like a time warp taking us back to the 70's when showbands were all the rage in Ireland. Time Just Slips Away is a prime example, the vocals more Johnny Cash than Johnny Cash. The generic country sound continues with Who Are You, Keep On Drivin and title track Time To Get Real. It is inoffensive stuff, but totally unoriginal and uninspired.

There are a few glimmers of hope in the country blues of Feel Alive and the chilled vibe of Raise Your Glass, but the production, as on the rest of the album, lacks any warmth. In this genre there are an abundance of artist that shine, Reel is not one of them.

www.benreel.com

[][ (1.5/5)

Review by Dylan Lennon

~ Thursday, 1 October 2009

múm: Sing Along To Songs You Don't Know - Album of the Month - September 2009

Can you hear that? It is the sound of musical genius at work, because this is a pretty stunning piece of work from the Icelandic band. It's folk. Well, sort off. There are hints of electronica, country and pop in here, but basically it is folk albeit with a substantial pop twist.

If I Were A Fish is a perfect opening shot. The eccentric musical arrangement sets the tone for the whole album. We find ourselves in the company of a multitude of instruments including glockenspiel, ukulele, marimba, dulcimer and even find a few guests popping up in the shape of the Estonian Suisapäisa Mixed choir and a parakeet!

The band has seen many personnel changes since its conception in the late Nineties and also seen a shift in their musical direction. The electronica element of their early work is replaced by a more acoustic vibe, but those old influences resurface on the left field Sing Along, but the band really come into their own when they play in the quirky side of pop and
Hullaballabalú is everything you could want from a slice of pop. Brooding bass line grumbling away and layered brass mixing with the dual vocals to give this song incredible depth. Prophecies & Reversed Memories is also up there for contender of best track, the driving drums breathing a life into the song that is hugely endearing.

The clever use of instrumentation is what makes this album so special. A River Don't Stop To Breathe and Blow Your Nose both demonstrate this perfectly. The use of the strings in the arrangements and there layering is inspired. For me the cherry on the top of the cake is the beguiling closer, Ladies Of The New Century. This chilled piano based song plays with space and harmonies that simply leaves you feeling warm inside.

This an album that continually grows on you and gives up something new on every listen. This is music to get lost in.

www.mum.is

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


Listen to múm: Hullaballabalú





~ Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Themselves: CrownsDown

This album is a brutal slice of Rap and Hip Hop from the duo of Adam Drucker and Jeff Logan that is a million miles away from most of the generic gangsta shite that has became most peoples view of what this genre is all about. The samples and production make this an attention grabbing affair with a viciousness and brutality which are brought to life by the rapid fire rapping that harks back to Public Enemy.

Now, I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of Hip Hop is practically nil, mainly due to the fact that I have not liked what I have heard in the past, but as the saying goes 'I know what I Like' and I like this. I like it a lot.


Opener Back II Burn is a statement of intent, announcing their return and laying the foundations for what is to come. This is, to coin a phrase, Old School. Thankfully there is none of the banality that peddlers of cliche ridden stereotypes like Eminem and 50 Cents produce for the chronically hip middle class of America. This is not easy listening if your not into this style of music, like me, but it is hard not to get caught up in its honesty and the pop sensibilities of the samples on offer.

Roman Is As Roman Does, Oversleeping and Gold Teeth Will Roll are perhaps the best places to start as they are the most accessible tracks on offer.
If you want something that will challenge your view, mis-informed or not, of Hip Hop, then this is a good place to start. The guys are touring in the UK and Ireland (and Europe) in October.

www.myspace.com/themselves

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

~ Monday, 28 September 2009

The Amazing: The Amazing

Calling yourself The Amazing could be taken as either a dangerous folly or a statement of intent, but you don't get the feeling that these guys saw it that way when they chose their moniker. The Swedish outfits music harks back to the heady days of Woodstock. A blend of Byrds style jangly guitars and Stephen Stills blues infused country rock all topped off with a big dollop of (pre Woodstock) Country Joe and The Fish.

Released on the Swedish imprint Subliminal Sounds, the home of Lisa O Piu and Dungen, a label that is known for its love of psychedelia and that is exactly what we get here. Opener The Kirwan Song, a tribute to one time Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan, is an extended folk rock workout with a very English feel. I'm sure Kirwan would approve. I have to say that it is on the more stripped down acoustic based numbers that the band really come into their own. Beach House and Is It Likely are gloriously summer tinged and transport you to California's highway one, cruising in a Ford Mustang with the hood down.

This is an album that is hard not to like, mainly because it has a certain familiarity to it. From the Hawkwindesque Code II to the Moby Grape sounding Deportation Day and with more than a whiff of Thunderclap Newman's Something In The Air about it, Dead.

The best as they say, is saved to last with the epic Had To Keep Walking and wistful acoustic The Strangest Thing. The former, at 11 mins long, is a throwback to Neil Young in his finest alt-country mode while the latter, the shortest track on the album, is just acoustic guitar and vocals, and simply beautiful.

If you are looking for the perfect accompaniment to the end of summer, then this album just could be it.

www.theamazing.se

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

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Beak: Beak

It’s hard to muster up anything positive to say about Beak. They make a hangover feel worse. There’s no doubting the Bristol trio’s pedigree with musician and producer Geoff Barrow having worked with Portishead but it sounds as if he’s showing off with his mates. The best part of the Beak experience is the relief when it’s finished.

The immediate listen is painful. The second one isn’t any easier and by the third only Battery Point and Ears Have Ears are close to salvaging.

It’s self indulgent and just not very good. It’s released on label, Invada which thankfully, Geoff Barrow part owns. Probably for the best as no one else would touch them. I get the idea of musicians doing their own thing and doing it for their art. If there’s anything constructive to say then that’s it, they’re being true to themselves. It could maybe work as an art installation but that’s about it.

Barrow Gurney sounds like Dr Stephen Hawking short circuiting at karaoke. Flax Burton feels like a migraine while having root canal surgery without anaesthetic.

The music, the blurb on the band proudly tells us, is recorded live in one room with no overdubs and recorded in 12 days. It sounds like it too.

A limited edition box set version of the album is available direct from the Invada website. Fans can get a specially designed box with a CD version of the album, a limited edition CD EP, 12” vinyl with 2 bonus tracks and a T Shirt. All this can be ordered from below. What’s written on the T shirt? Beak: music to perforate your eardrums to?

www.invadarecords.bigcartel.com


www.dreamofbeak.blogspot.com


[] (1/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 26 September 2009

Synoiz: Long Lost (single)

The accompanying press blurb describes the music as 'angst-ridden ambient synth pop' and who am I to argue with that. To me though, what I hear is a soundtrack. A piece of music that is pointless without the visuals to accompany it. It is the type of instrumental muzak you get piped into the haunted house at Blackpool pleasure beach.

If you own a mac, then creating this type of music using Garageband is easy. Something done for your own amusement, so it is hard to get enthusiastic about what Synoiz is trying to do. I'm afraid it stirs no emotion in me what so ever.

www.synoiz.com

~ Monday, 14 September 2009

Tim Schmidt: Slower Things

Swedish singer/songwriter Schmidt could never be accused of being work shy with a schedule of non stop touring across Europe and self releasing his material to a growing fan base. The music is just him and his acoustic guitar, simple, plaintive and at times quite beautiful. The songs are very much from the Bob Dylan school of songwriting, with the vocals coming across as extremely Dylanesque. This may be due to the fact that he is effectively singing in a foreign language, well foreign to him (English).

The use of open tunings gives some of the songs an ethereal feel. Blue Monday/Slower Things and Brighton Beach bring to mind the early work of English troubadour Martin Stephenson or Paul Simon. The production on the album has a slightly homemade feel about it, perhaps because it is, but it gives it a depth and gravity of warmth that is hard to resist.

The best is saved for last with the beguiling She Moves Me. The warmth of the finger picking enhanced by the percussive effect of the nylon strings. This is simple music and no mistake, but why should it be complicated when it can be this good. There are many songwriters out there just ploughing their own furrow, totally untouched by the commercialism that is rampant in music. Schmidt is one of those musicians and I say god bless them.

www.myspace.com/timschmidtmusic

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

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Katsen: It Hertz

The duo of Chris Blackburn & Donna Grimaldi obviously have a love of 80's electronica and this album could easily have been released over 20 years ago. It is a mix mash of bands like OMD, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Human League, which to many, will bring back some great memories and to others it will be a new sound. The 12 songs on here sound fresh despite the obvious retro feel to them, but while it is a undeniably catchy piece of kitch, there is one problem. Ms Grimaldi just can't sing. No amount of studio trickery can disguise the flat drone that makes up her singing voice. On Cactus we are exposed to the full range of her out of tune warbling. It is not a great song, but Grimaldi makes it all the more painful.

At times her vocal insecurities don't really matter and even suit the tweeness of the Bonitempi style keyboard sounds. Now you may be getting the impression I don't like this record, but I do. I was always a sucker for bands like Kraftwerk and Front 242 and this brings back nostalgic feelings long left behind. Certain tracks do stand out like Drax and, wait for it.... surprise.... on German Film Star Ms Grimaldi does actually sound great. The second half of the album definitely is a more self assured affair and more accessible than the patchy first half.

If you want a nostalgia trip then you could always dig out your 12" vinyl copy of Tour De France or just stick on It Hertz, look out your winkle pickers and waffle trousers and dance like it is 1984.

www.katsen.com

[][][][] (3.5/5)

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The 0's: We Are The O's

The O's are Dallas duo Taylor Young and John Pedigo and their style of music is soaked in America's rich folk heritage, a melting pot of bluegrass and Americana. They arrive with an impressive pedigree having appeared in early incarnations of the Polyphonic Spree and Young Heart Attack, but their unplugged and impassioned sound has little to do with their past.

This album sounds like it was recorded late at night on the porch of a North Carolina shack with all the neighbours nodding knowingly in approval of the young un's getting the music that has always been in their soul. There are no frills on here. It is acoustic guitar, banjo, some percussion and plaintive vocals, but that is all that is needed. The duo have an ear for painting from the pop palette, but on an old canvas. This is music that does your heart good.

Opener You've Got Your Heart is a classic slice of Americana driven by Pedigo's banjo and sets the feel for the rest of the album. If Neil Young was to get back to basics and record an acoustic album, you would imagine that it would sound pretty much like this record.

Not all the tracks work. I Still Wait works right up till the chorus, then the overly aggressive vocals kill it stone dead. This is a temporary blip and the guys are back on track with the bittersweet Don't Waste Your Day and the blissful Together. Both masterclasses on how the traditional can also be current.

If you are a fan of Avett Brothers or David Childers (What do you mean who?), then you'll love this. This is soul music from the heart of America, warm, inviting and endearingly charming.

www.wearetheos.com

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

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John McKeown: Things Worth Fighting For

When I reviewed the first single from this album last month, it was not a pleasant experience, so it is fair to say that I was not overly excited when the album popped through the letter box, but no one was more surprised than me to find that this is actually a pretty good album.

The Nick Drake, John Martyn and Richard Thompson influences are hard to ignore, but it is not a case of plagiarism, more a reinterpretation of English folk with a pop twist. McKeown's style is one of familiarity, he not one for taking risks. On songs like Will You Be Mine and Candy Girl there is a far more pop feel than elsewhere on the album. The single Fade Away is the one track that really just does not work. Bland, plodding and lyrically inept.

There are a couple of real gems on here. For You has hints of U2 about it and certainly has single written all over it. The title track opens with African sounding chants and the African feel continues in the guitar sound and repetitive percussion. Excellent stuff.

This is an album for lazy Saturday afternoons or for chilling to in your local fair trade coffee house and has been a pleasant surprise and actually feels like somewhat of an old friend. It's a funny old world.

www.johnmckeown.net

[][][][ (3.5/5)

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AT8: Adam's Party (single)

The feisty duo from Bucks make throwaway bubblegum pop that you can hear belting out the jukebox of your local Yates Wine Lodge on a Saturday night as the underagers shake their thing while sucking on a bottle of Bacardi Breezer. The product placement over, this is a pleasant enough piece of pop, but heard it all before. Sure, it is better than most of the manufactured crap out there, but despite their protestations, they are very much in the same vein as the glut of identa-kit female with attitude groups that are ten a penny. Think Girls Aloud with guitars or Bananarama without the talent.

www.myspace.com/at8official

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Beat The Radar: To The City From The Sea

Geography, as ever at the Music Critic is always pivotal. Beat the Radar moved from Cumbria to Manchester to be nearer to the home of New Order, The Fall and the Stone Roses. The vibe and the vocals follow the English indie tradition, but the overall sound nods to Sebadoh, Husker Du and early REM. All this is underpinned with a tight, action packed rhythm section.

Beat the Radar pack a heavy power pop punch. From opener Misunderstood What You Said to the Buzzcock-esque 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 the album, To The City From The Sea, on Manchester’s Akoustic Anarky, breezes along quite nicely thank you very much.

It’s like a stroll through the indie guitar bands you forgot about in your record collection, full of familiar snapshots and great bands who should’ve been massive. This isn’t to say they sound unoriginal; in fact the effect is more of breathing new life and of bringing a fresh crispness.

In By the Sea there’s potentially a hit single that could see Beat the Radar starring high on next year’s festival circuit. Brilliant songs, all more addictive than midget gems and drummer Adam Featherstone drives us along splendidly.

There’s intricate guitar evoking The Smiths and Blur at their indie best, especially on Stars. On Pretend You Play a chord straight out of Sonic Youth’s back catalogue. If they’re not already, soon they’ll be the new darlings of the NME.

If you like guitar pop, you’ll love To The City From The Sea.

Great work.

www.myspace.com/beattheradar

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Phantom Band: Checkmate Savage

Kinetic. Eclectic. Collective. Kraught rock. Electro. Visual art rock. Folk. Experimental. Nick Cave. Velvet Underground. Stereolab. Can. Sons and Daughters. Joy Division. The Beta Band. Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion. Yo La Tengo. From the brilliant opener The Howling you feel Glasgow based sextet The Phantom Band must get sick of people having to find a pigeonhole to squeeze them into but by the end of this wonderful album you realise that’s the point. They’re messing with our heads.

What’s most tangible on Checkmate Savage, the band’s Chemikal Underground release is the tension. Great bands like The Ramones and The Kinks thrived on tension. Difficulties must arise when all 6 have a strong opinion, equally they’re sussed enough to realise the friction is where the magic lies. The work of former Delgado, Paul Savage deserves credit here as he’s reined in the disparate, fragmented elements and helped make a coherent album.

Underwriting this album is a lyrical darkness similar in style to Martin Amis at his funny and sarcastic best. In Folk Song Oblivion the clarion call ‘I can’t see for the mountain silhouettes’ before we skip off into a delicious unashamed cheesy keyboard hook. Left Hand Wave and instrumental Crocodile are worthy of mentions but the more you listen the more your favourites rotate.

If Bill Forsyth was making a new movie in Glasgow’s West End about a social worker who dreams of being a cartoonist who has left the Hebrides and keeps seeing the ghost of his former love through the wet windows of the Oxfam Record shop on Byres Road hoping she’ll walk back into his life. Films about nothing, then the epic Islands would ignite that scene. In fact let’s call Bill, all of Checkmate Savage could be the soundtrack.

www.phantomband.co.uk

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

Review by Charlie Brown


~ Monday, 7 September 2009