APSE: Climb Up

For a band hailing from the States, APSE sound very British. Their sound having more to do with bands like Gomez or Mogwai than anything coming out of America at the moment. I suppose you could call their music post psychedelic ambient rock if you want to label it. Based around the reverb laden vocals of the bands only original member Bobby (no surname, just Bobby), this self produced album is more focused than previous efforts, relying more on the vocals and lyrical content than ever before.

Now, ASPE are not reinventing the wheel. There is nothing contained here that we have not heard before from bands like Soft Machine and Moby Grape, but they do have enough about them to make this album a thoroughly enjoyable affair. What they do do well is creating textures and layers to their music. Opener Blown Doors is a fine example of this. The haunting keyboards adding a depth that underpins the frenzied drums, while Bobby's vocals sound like a cross between Sparks Russell Mael and The Delays Greg Gilbert.

There is nothing on here that you could call radio friendly, but that doesn't matter as you want to keep these guys your own little secret. When a band makes music this good you don't want them to have their heads turned by the evil beast that is the major label. There is something about APSE that is hard to put your finger on. Perhaps it is the fact that the music is completely eclectic. This is how you would imagine Alex Harvey would sound if he had not shuffled of his mortal coil.

This is good music. It needs a little bit of work on the listeners behalf, but the rewards are well worth it. Tracks like Closure, The Age and Lie only improve with each listen, but don't tell your friends. Lets keep these guys our little secret.


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

Listen to APSE: Blown Doors

~ Monday, 31 August 2009

Lisa o Piu: When This Was The Future - Album of the Month - August 2009

Lisa O Piu is Swede Lisa Isaksson and her assorted band of musical friends. There is some great music coming out of Sweden right now, Håkan Hellström and Jens Lekman to name but two, but in Isaksson they have an artist that is truly special in a wonderfully weird psychedelic way. With When This Was The Future we have a collection of 8 songs so achingly beautiful that you will feel you have found something totally unique.

Opener Cinnamon Sea brings to mind Joni Mitchell circa the Blue album, the harmonies and arrangement perfect, while Forest Echo is a haunting and atmospheric piece that would not sound out of place on the Wickerman soundtrack, the repetitive guitar having an almost hypnotising effect.

Mattias Gustavsson's lo-fi production is perfectly suited to Isaksson's breathy reverb laden vocals, giving the album a warmth that has not been heard since the late 60's. This is folk music, but it is so much more.

On tracks like Traitor and Two you can definitely hear a kinship with José
González. Perhaps it is the sparse arrangement or the monotone vocals, but it is definitely there. She certainly shares the same musical sensibilities as González and even Fleet Foxes, but despite these comparisons, her music is wholly original.

The album closes with And So On. At over 6 minutes long it could quite easily have fallen flat, but it is a masterpiece, lifting and laying you as the instrumentation builds and falls.

This is a stunning and hugely impressive record that is quite unlike anything else out there at the moment.
Isaksson possesses a voice with an ethereal quality that can draw emotions you never knew you had, while her skills as a songwriter means that we will be hearing far more of her in years to come. Buy this album and discover something quirky, beautiful and totally captivating.


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

Listen to Lisa O Piu: And So On


Noiserv: Bullets on Parade (single)

Released as a limited edition 7" vinyl through Autumn Ferment Records, this is an impressive statement from the Portuguese songwriter David Santos and makes getting hold of his 2008 debut album One Hundred Miles From Thoughtlessness a mouthwatering prospect.

This is a cleverly constructed piece of music that is based around Santos plaintive, but spellbinding vocals, the acoustic guitar the backbone of the song with Glockenspiels building the texture. A stroke of genius is the use of various household objects like a typewriter and camera to provide the percussion.

This is heartwarming music that the likes of Damian Rice and David Gray could only imagine making.
Catch him when he hits the UK in November for a handful of shows.


~ Monday, 24 August 2009

Dave Arcari: Got Me Electric

Arcari is an artist that is hard to define, not in terms of the music as it is blues, but in his delivery, owing as much to Joey Ramone as he does to Leadbelly. Blues purists may baulk at Arcari's take on their beloved music, but there is no denying it is hugely entertaining. If the Devil ever wanted guitar lessons, he would probably look up Arcari.

Got Me Electric is a melting pot of rockabilly, punk, country and delta blues delivered in Arcari's rasping Scottish drawl that sounds like it has been earned with years of roll ups and Jack Daniels. Most of the 13 tracks on here are under 3 minutes, which is perfect for this style of music. Armed with a resonator guitar, Arcari guides us through the dark underbelly of life with a mix of self penned songs and a couple of choice covers.

The Bluesier tracks work best for these ears with Homesick & Blue a real touch of class and the cover of Robert Johnson's Walkin' Blues lulling you into a false sense of security before Arcari's trademark mayhem ensues. Soul of a Man is as near a ballad as your gonna get here and is a superb piece of delta inspired blues.

Scotland's national bard is covered here with Parcel Of Rouges and we're sure Burns would approve. It's always going to be hard to capture the raw energy of Arcari's live shows, but this album has a good stab at it. So warn the neighbours, put the cat out, send the kids to their grannies and turn it up. You know you want to.


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

Listen to Dave Arcari: Homesick and Blue


Angie Shaw: The Other Side Of Blue

This, the debut from the Yorkshire songwriter, was released in 2008 and has received a re-release due to Shaw's inclusion on the 2009 Children in Need CD. Shaw music has its roots in Blues, but there is definitely a nu folk psychedelic vibe in there and her voice has a warmth reminiscent of Edie Brickell.

There is one thing about this album that is hard to ignore and renders the first few tracks un-listenable, the out of tune guitars! Seriously, a deaf man with ear plugs could spot it a mile away, so why the producer Phil Snell or the band didn't is a mystery. Prime example of this is on the title track where the slide guitar is excruciatingly out of key.

It is a pity that this album is flawed, as Shaw has a beguiling voice and some lovely songs. Sweet Little Dreamer with its country vibe and harmonies could easily be found on a Sheryl Crow album while the excellent Waiting For The Day sounds like Eleanor McEvoy in her finest form.

The album closes on Boy, an ode to her son and a quite beautiful song. With better production and a guitar tuner, this could have been a descent album. As it is, it does show Shaw's talent as a songwriter and her fine voice, but the flaws makes for uncomfortable listening.


[][] (2/5)

~ Friday, 21 August 2009

Simon Todd: Contracts For The Sale Of Land

There seems to be a whole sub genre of music out there that while not in the mainstream has a large and loyal following. Guys like Charlie Landsborough who fills concert halls up and down the country with pensioners taking a night off from the bingo for his hackneyed take on country and folk. The reason that I mention this is that Simon Todd's music inhabits this world of uninspiring songwriting and run of the mill production.

Blessed with a voice that is cabaret in every sense of the word and songs that are decidedly middle of the road, it feels like something you would see on Britain's Got Talent or Stars in their Eyes. The lyrics don't help matters. Todd trys to tell stories with his lyrics, as on Pithead Wheels, but while the sentiment is worthy, cramming in as many words as you can into the verse just makes it sound clumsy.

By now you can probably tell I don't like this record. I can normally find something positive about any record, but I seriously can't here. The production is truly awful with the mix all over the place, so this does not help Todd's cause, but ultimately it is the lack of quality songwriting that lets it down.




Deadstring Brothers: São Paulo

Detroit's Deadstring Brothers are a million miles away from the Motown sound that the city is famed for, instead they play dirty blues infused rock 'n' roll with more than a nod to The Rolling Stones. Front man Kurt Marschke sounds uncannily like a cross between Exile On Main Street era Jagger and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie.

There is nothing original about this record, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. This could have been released 30 years ago and feels a bit like an old friend that you have not seen for a while. Opener São Paulo is a blues soaked slide workout with a country tinge and some dark lyrics. ('Feel my end lord is growin close. Smell of death in my nose. Life's desires I done left them for, São Paulo.')

The band wear their influences on their sleeve. Along side the Stones, there is The Faces and even The Band in the mix and these are evident on tracks like The River Song and It's A Shame. The arrangements are excellent. The guitars riffing on layers of Hammond organ while the unmistakable sound of a pedal steel sitting there in the background. Excellent stuff.

The later half of the album has a more countrified feel to it with the brilliant Yesterday's Style being the outstanding track of the album with the lilting Always A Friend Of Mine being not far behind.

This album was my first encounter with this band, but I'll definitely be checking out their back catalogue. This is good music, plain and simple. Sometimes that is just what we need.


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

Listen to Deadstring Brothers: Yesterday's Style

~ Monday, 17 August 2009

Woodpecker Wooliams: Diving Down

This is the latest release from James Reid's mightily impressive Autumn Ferment Records, a label that champions alt and nu folk in all its many guises. In the past they have brought us some brilliant releases including Lisa O Piu, Noiserv and indeed Reid himself, but sadly they have misfired on this the debut long player from multi instrumentalist Gemma Williams.

There is little to like here. The songs, well I say songs, but that is paying them to high a complement, are naive and difficult to listening to. William's voice has a child like quality that quickly starts to have a similar effect on the ears as nails on a blackboard.

Ok, maybe I'm being to hard here, as I Shot You is actually pretty good and does suit her vocal style, but one swallow does not make a summer. Williams may be a multi instrumentalist, but that does not mean that she is particularly skilled at any of them. The poor instrumentation coupled with the production (or lack of it), makes this an uncomfortable experience that I won't be repeating.


[] (1/5)


Temposhark: The World Does Not Revolve Around You (single)

Every so often you get a cd through that just hooks you from the very first listen and this brilliant piece of indie bubblegum pop from Robert Diament, aka Temposhark, is one of those. This is quite possibly the most perfect pop song I have heard all year. It really is that good.

Diament obviously has an ear for a great tune, blending his 80's electro influences with the pop sensibilities of the classic 60's pop. The song has already made an impact in the US, being picked up by MTV.

It's one of those songs that gets you right from the start. Bouncing drums, thumping bass, stabbing piano, screaming guitars, shouty vocals and that killer chorus make it impossible to resist. As a taster for the forthcoming second album to be released early 2010, it is a mouthwatering morsel. This is going to be massive and rightly so.



John McKeown: Fade Away (single)

The debut single from London born songwriter John McKeown is a slice of folk pop that has shades of Nick Drake and Roy Harper about it, mainly in his voice and phrasing, but struggles to come close to their brilliance.

Fade Away is inoffensive enough, radio friendly even, but the arrangement goes nowhere and certainly does not stand up to repeated listening. This is the kind of pedestrian muzak foisted on us over 10 years ago by Chris De Burgh and Joan Armatrading.

It is difficult to see this doing anything other than filling the bargain bins in HMV.



JJ Gilmour: The Boy Who Didn't Fall

It is hard to believe that this is only the second solo release from the former Silencers and Casbah Club front man. 2002 saw the release of his excellent debut album Sunnyside PAL and the intervening years have seen him mired down in legal problems and his record label going bust. So, has it been worth the wait?

The one thing that was never in doubt was the quality of Gilmour's voice, but it came as a surprise to many that he was also a fine songwriter capable of writing anthemic melodies and painting pictures with his lyrics. This album carries on the quality where his debut left off. The production is smooth and warm, which is no surprise as it was recorded with the production team behind Wet, Wet, Wet's biggest hits, but the music is a million miles away from the former teen idols. Gilmour shows he is not afraid to take on subjects that others would avoid. Last Destination tackles the thorny issue of abortion, while Wild Child poignantly questions the futility of war and is dedicated to journalist Richard Wild who was shot dead in Baghdad. Powerful stuff.

While some of the subject matter may be dark, the music is upbeat throughout. Uplifting even. All About Me being a prime example, but it is on the slower, more mellow tracks that he seems to be more at ease. This Could Be Love is a beautiful acoustic ballad with a chorus that should carry a health warning it is so contagious.

So, has it been worth the wait? Definitely. This record deserves to be heard, as does Gilmour himself.


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

~ Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Jinder: Nine Cents From Benelux

This album from the Bournemouth songwriter mixes re-recordings of tracks from earlier albums alongside new songs with his familiar Americana sound to the fore. Jinder was more recently seen as the front man of the hotly tipped, but short lived Mercurymen. The pop sensibilities that he showed with the band have been deserted and what we have in Nine Cents From Benelux is a tight, well written and performed piece of work that is pleasant but falls far short of what he is capable off.

The album kicks off on what is its strongest track. Train In Your Voice is a perfect showcase for his powerful vocals, the rumbling organ underpinning the whole thing and is really quite a beautiful song. Frozen Ocean is short and sweet, the discord between the guitar and voice giving it a haunting quality.

There is no doubt about Jinder's skill as a songwriter, so it is disappointing that Wait In Line and In My Time Of Dying feel like fillers, the production on both these tracks sounds lifeless and flat, while the cover of Don McLean's Vincent is a pointless exercise and adds nothing new to the song.

Silver Wings Of Morning closes the album and is the type of song that Jinder excels at but only serves to beg the question why there is not more of this on here. He has it in him to make an amazing album, sadly this isn't it.


[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Tuesday, 11 August 2009

French Horn Rebellion: Up All Night (single)

FHR are Brooklyn brothers Robert and David Molinari, who are best known for their remix and production work, but they are out to make a name for themselves in their own right with this piece of nifty retro electro.

Up All Night has shades of a stripped down Empire of the Sun, especially in the vocals and is catchy enough, but.... Yes there is a but. Depending on your point of view, these guys are geniuses who have the perfect understanding of creating the most simple melodies, coating them in sugar and stripping them back to the bare bones to allow the production to shine or they had a spare hour and battered this out on their Mac using Garageband.

Whichever it is, It's a grower.


Listen to French Horn Rebellion: Up All Night

~ Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Witch and the Robot: On Safari

God bless these eccentric little isles. The home of the wind up radio, Cliff Richard and Bovril. Oh yes, it's a truly wonderful land. And you know what, it just got better. The Witch And The Robot are here to bring us a ray of sunshine, so dig out your sunglasses and top up your tan.

Do you remember those kids at school who used to wear tee-shirts of bands you had never heard of? Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong and the like. Surprise!

TWATR (yes, that is how they are known. Hilarious isn't it), are like a breath of fresh air. Take opener Giants' Graves for instance, sounding like a Mariachi band doing Grateful Dead covers. Yep, it is that cool. The beautifully mellow Rapture Of The Deep has shades of British Sea Powers, as does the whole album. That's not to say that TWATR are not original, because they are. You get the feeling that they probably have an 8 track player in their Volkswagen camper van with the greatest hits of Jethro Tull and it has rubbed off on what they do.

A Crocodile Song is a ramshackle beauty. A folk anthem. A retro hippie freak out. Just a bloody great song. One song in particular stand out for me though. De-Nihilism could very well be TWATR's Sympathy For The Devil. Nuff said.

This album is a great piece of psych folk, but it is not perfect. You Already Know All There Is To Know About Space Travel (Just look At The Stars) feels self indulgent, while Sex Music (Beef On Wax) go nowhere until well into the second half. Those two songs aside, this is a wonderful collection that manages to capture the live energy from a band who defy labels.


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