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.


[][][][][] (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.


[][][][] (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.


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


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?



[] (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.


~ 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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.



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.


[][][][] (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.


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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 7 September 2009

Blitzen Trapper: Black River Killer EP

Since signing with Sub Pop in 2007, Portland, Oregon sextet Blitzen Trapper have been making waves. Their previous release, Furr was named 13th best album of 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine. Black River Killer, a seven track EP, is a collection of older songs and a clever introduction to new fans, capturing a musical snapshot of the band’s indie pop and folk rock sound.

It opens with the title track Black River Killer a melodramatic ditty about a cowboy killer in the same musical zip code as The Meat Puppets. While label mates Fleet Foxes go for Crosby, Stills and Nash, there’s a much cooler doffing of the Stetson to the Flying Burrito Brothers with equal dollops of psychedelic pop and quirky electro moments that surprise and delight in equal measure. If reluctantly pushed to describe what they’re close to, imagine if Kings of Leon took time off and did an indie-country-folk-psychedelic project with The Eels and Beck (good Beck, when he’s heartbroken) and Stephen Malkmus from Pavement. Forget fancy studio pyrotechnics, who needs them when you’ve got a natural sound as warm as Neil Young at his best? That’s the feel on this EP.

On Silver Moon and Black Rock we are in safe hands as we go towards Dylan territory circa The Band’s Basement Tapes. On Shoulder Full of You and Preachers Sisters Boy the band flex their sinewy song writing muscle, there’s no flab on this EP. Maybe Portland, Oregon’s weather is to blame. Those dry summers and wet temperate winters making the songs, clean, pure, natural and true.

The songs are excellent, strong, snappy, like Raymond Carver short stories, they get in, get out and don’t linger. Like the best scrambled egg, toast and coffee in a deserted diner in a one horse town, this is a fitting soundtrack to your great Northwest adventure. Though whatever you do, watch out for the town’s killer cowboy.

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


Review by Charlie Brown

~ Thursday, 3 September 2009